The radio telescope at the center of America’s cellphone black hole
MotherBoard TV has the story about the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. The observatory houses the largest steerable radio telescope in the world, with a reflector surface area of 2.4 acres. The site was originally set in Green Banks because radio telescopes are very sensitive to electromagnetic emissions (as an NRAO employee explains in the video, if a smart phone were placed on Mars, it woud appear as the brightest radio object in the sky). Green Banks in 1956 was was sufficiently remote that there were few sources of interference. Today, every wireless electronic device you own is constantly emitting EM waves. Therefore, by law, the NRAO facility is surrounded by a 13,000 square mile ‘dead zone’ (called the National Radio Quiet Zone) where residents and visitors are forbidden to own anything that could interfere with the facility: cellphones, WiFi, video games, radios, cars with spark plugs, even microwaves. For example, firefighters and police within the NRQZ use CB radios to communicate.
Stone-age restrictions on technology aside, the NRAO has been hugely productive for the scientific community. It has tested Einstein’s theories, discovered new building block molecules in space, and provides evidence as to how galaxies form. All told, the GBT (the largest telescope at the facility) observes for nearly 7000 hours every year. Unfortunately, due to the squeeze on science funding at all levels, the NRAO is at risk of being defunded. I’m sure you, my lovely followers, don’t need to be reminded of risks of defunding the basic science that has made the US a leader in research and technology.
Check out this neat short film about the NRAO.