A small West Virginia town has put the kibosh on all things emitting radio waves – cell phones are banned and residents can’t even heat up their dinners in a microwave. Welcome to Green Bank, West Virginia, home of complete radio silence within a 10-mile radius of a gigantic telescope.
Writes the National Journal: “Only four hours west of Washington, there is a town where cell phones and wireless Internet are outlawed. Commercial radios are banned, and microwaves aren't welcome either. Green Bank might sound like a Luddite's dreamscape, but the West Virginia hamlet's self-imposed blackout is being done all in the name of science: Green Bank is home to the world's largest radio telescope, a 100-meters-in-diameter dish that is the crown jewel of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).”
In the name of scientific advancements, residents of this town are forced to take a technological step back. But the 150 or so cell-less citizens know going in that they will have to do without some of the modern accoutrements of a digital life. For the sake of the study of far-off galaxies, stars and planets, they’re happy to forgo WiFi. And if they don’t like it, crews monitoring radio waves spike will show up at their door.
Says MSN News:
A cell phone can throw off the world's largest telescope because of the latter's extraordinary sensitivity—a necessity to measure radio frequencies emitted by objects in space. To put this in perspective, a typical cell phone emits two to three watts when it is turned on but not being used. The radio telescope measures 0.00000000000000000000000000000001 watts, or approximately the same amount of energy given off by a single snowflake when it hits the ground.
Mike Holstine, manager on site at the NRAO (who prefers his colloquial title of “Defender of the Airwaves”) is tasked with making sure there is non-interference with the telescope. The 23-year observatory employee has been around just about as long as the devices that he is looking to keep outside of his 13,000-square mile zone.
“Most people don't think about these kinds of things, but we have to think about them all the time,” Holstien said. “Basically anything you have that is electronic is a source of radio-frequency radiation,” adding that newcomers or visitors are sometimes “absolutely horrified” when they are told they must go without their cell phones.
Still, Holstine said they “generally have the great support of the community. We really wouldn't be able to do the science we do without their support.”