Quiet As ‘Quiet’ Can Be

Green Bank in West Virginia is America’s quietest town where cell phones are banned and their use is potentially prosecutable by law. Yes, that’s right, it is a tech-savvy teenager’s nightmare. If you are a city slicker accustomed to continuous connectivity, you might start to panic.

Technology is constantly ever-evolving. It is constantly changing how we live and communicate. But there in Green Bank, it is the presence of some of the most sophisticated technology on Earth that preserves this rural enclave. It is like a throwback town to yesteryear. This may be the only place in United States where one can go to get away from the technology filled city-life of United States. There, instant connectivity is extinct. Even microwaves are frowned upon by the region’s scientists.

One might think they are people who are still backward or fearful of technology, but I assure you its quite the contradictory. There are researchers that are tucked in the Allegheny Mountains, who are listening to the exploding galaxies at the edge of the universe. It is a signal so faint something like about a billionth of a billionth of a millionth of a watt. As a cell phone emits about 3 watts, it can swamp the sounds that are teaching the astronomers how the Milky Way was formed and is it still evolving. Therefore, the use of a cell phone is limited in this National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13000-square mile area that limits the radio frequency in the eastern half of West Virginia and parts of Virginia, stretching to the Maryland Border. The quiet zone gets drastically more restrictive the closer one gets to Green Bank owing to it being home to the world’s largest steerable radio telescope, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. It is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

The Telescope is arguably the most powerful link to the cosmos, where researchers have been unlocking secrets about how the stars and galaxies were formed. A slight rogue signal could prevent potential discoveries, discoveries that could answer big questions about how the universe ticks. It weighs 17 million pounds, and it spans about 2 acres wide and stretches 485 feet into the air. Also there are several smaller telescopes sprinkled around it amid the 2700 acres of parkland. This telescope can hear sounds from hundreds of millions of miles away and attracts some of the leading researchers in the world. Green Bank is an amazing combination of extremely rural with extremely high technology. The principal scientist of the Green Bank Telescope says- “If you want to hear quiet noises, you need to keep the noise down.” Also according to him, it is not at all odd for people living there without the cell phones as human beings have survived without them for like 5000 years, history is the proof.

The residents in Green Bank communicate through only communication radios, which is also limited to only first responders. These communication radios are limited to short-distance CB radios. If anyone gets lost in Green Bank, there will be a pay phone to rescue them. People actually use pay phones there.

It is surprising though, how ban on wireless has not driven the residents away and the life is normal as anywhere else. It is anchored by a school, Post Office, Dollar General and barbershop. It’s library was designated the nation’s No.1 rural library in 2003. There is one gas station, and no stoplights on the roads. The Church of God stands south of the town. Within a mile of the telescope, only diesel vehicles are allowed because spark plugs could overwhelm the sounds from galaxies. The workers there communicate using walkie-talkies on very specific frequencies.

Folks here relish their place in history as America’s wonder, where researchers study galaxies, the ice sheets on Europa, and the complex molecules found in clouds between stars. If there’s life out there somewhere in the vast universe, they’ll hear it first. They just won’t be able to notify anyone by cellphone.