The Town Where Wi-Fi Is Banned: The Green Bank Telescope and the Quiet Zone


Tucked away in a valley in the Allegheny Mountains
in West Virginia, is this: the Green Bank Radio Telescope, the largest steerable radio telescope
in the world. Now if you’re building an optical telescope, something that looks at the stars, then you want to be on top of a mountain, you want to get through as much of Earth’s
atmosphere as you can. But a radio telescope needs to be isolated from all the radio noise that humanity produces. Now, one way is to build it in the middle
of a load of mountains. Solid rock does a pretty good job of shielding. But another way is to get everyone around
you to just shut up. Welcome to the National Radio Quiet Zone. …er, this is where I would have used a big,
sweeping drone shot to get a dramatic picture. But remote control isn’t allowed here. The job of the Green Bank telescope is actually
really, really flexible, from looking at objects in the solar system to looking at objects halfway across the universe
and further. It was instrumental in uncovering the molten
core of Mercury. It helped resolve a sort of controversy in
astronomy about the distance to a nearby star cluster. And that might sound a little bit mundane, but measuring distances in astronomy is very
hard. And one of the biggest projects the telescope
does right now is also looking for living things out there
in space. It’s called the Breakthrough Listen project, and it’s a search for extraterrestrial intelligence
using the Green Bank telescope and other facilities like it throughout the
world. The Quiet Zone is roughly a rectangle, about 100 miles on each side. And since 1958, the US Government has put strict limits on
transmissions within the Zone. Partly for this telescope, and partly because
of a much more secure military facility thirty miles away that listened to
more earthly communications. Some folks writing about the Quiet Zone, they say that all transmissions are banned
for the whole hundred miles, but that’s not true: there are cities within
the wider parts of the Zone, and the folks there happily use
wifi and cell phones. It’s the Quiet Zone, not the Silent Zone. Out there, the rules are about big transmitters, the kind that put out TV and radio signals: they’re required to use low-powered, directional antennas rather than just spraying
signal everywhere. Within ten miles of here, though, the rules start becoming a bit more strict. This telescope is sensitive enough that, if it was pointed the right way, it could pick up a signal with the equivalent
energy of one snowflake hitting the ground. And even if it’s not pointed right at you, it’s got two acres of surface area to hear your phone screaming for cell towers
that just aren’t there. Living in a place without a cell phone is
definitely an interesting change. Before two years ago, I did have a cell phone, could look up anything I wanted on Google. You know, after a week of living here? I didn’t even really notice it. The only difference is that you have to plan
things ahead more if you want to go out with your friends — you
plan in advance, or you say “I’ll meet up with them when
I meet up with them”. Things like that. And many, many people have come and gone, stayed for weeks or months at a time, and really none of them have ever said
“man, I really miss my cell phone”. In the nearby town of Green Bank,
anything that transmits, whether it’s baby monitors
or wireless doorbells, is banned. So is anything that might cause interference. Microwave ovens aren’t allowed. Power lines have to be buried
four feet underground. The observatory buildings near the telescope
are huge Faraday cages, keeping all the emissions inside. So this is the anechoic chamber
that I test in. I first test the device itself to see what
the emissions are, then design a box for it,
put it back in the
chamber, and see if I did a good job or not. Things like cameras, for instance, need to see high frequency
electromagnetic energy, namely light, and yet we’re trying to keep them from emitting
lower frequency electromagnetic energy. Usually we use a mesh embedded in glass
that’s very fine, and so it doesn’t distort the image too
much. Once you’re within a mile of the telescope, the restrictions are so severe that only
diesel cars are allowed. Regular gasoline cars: they cause too much
interference from the spark plugs inside. Folks who say they’re hypersensitive to
electromagnetic fields move to this area: and even if pretty much all the evidence says
it’s in their heads, they still feel better for being here. The scientists, however,
have more practical concerns. Mostly my work here deals with
radio-frequency interference on site, and also doing routine runs to see
if there’s anything new out there. We have a monitoring station down on site, and then we’ll jump in the truck. And we have direction finding equipment
in the truck. We just basically have to look at it with
the receiver and the spectrum analyser and just drive around and watch
the signal peak or fall away. It is getting more difficult. Because there’s more and more
wireless stuff out there. The wireless genie is out of the bottle. And there’s so many things out there — the Internet of Things is creeping into almost
every device. Refrigerators now have hotspots in them. When we go around and scan for wi-fi hotspots, there’s always three or four printers out
there. The strangest one I’ve heard of
was an electric pad in a doghouse. There was some arcing inside the pad, and it was generating a lot of RFI, so… My predecessor’s the one that found that
one, and they fixed it by buying the guy a new
heater for the doghouse! Thank you to everyone at the
Green Bank Observatory and all the staff at the radio telescope. I am kind of overwhelmed to be up here, I am so grateful to all of them, please, pull down the description, check out the links, and go see what they
do.

100 thoughts on “The Town Where Wi-Fi Is Banned: The Green Bank Telescope and the Quiet Zone

  1. Now wait just a minute….they allow nothing that can transmit a signal within a mile of the radiotelescope….but he's got a CB radio in his truck!! Its a time index 4:40.

  2. I am somewhat incredulous. For example, all radio telescopes have to deal with extraneous terrestrial transmissions, not to mention satellite transmission, yet they seem to be unaffected…

  3. So I figure truckers doing deliveries there can't be jaw jacking with Rubber Duck and Scalded Dog on their CB's with cheap Chinese made 200 watt dirt bag linear amplifiers with no notch filters generating a butt load of harmonics.

  4. Me: this seems cool that people are ok with out having cell phones. I should move there!
    Also me: *watches this video on my cell phone *

  5. I've been there it looks like an alien spaceship from far away, you aren't allowed anywhere near it. Me and my mom go to a place sorta close called Snowshoe mountain resort

  6. 4:28 Someone needs to rent this car for a day and visit random people with it to tell them that there are paranormal activities in their house.

  7. Its nice that they actually solves the problems then. And not just say sorry you can´t use that here, but we also don´t help you find something u can use.

  8. What about Police, Fire, EMS? Don't tell me they travel with no lights or siren? And if that's a yes I really pray they don't put anyone's life at risk by not using a piece of life-saving equipment because heaven forbid it might interfere with E.T. 100-square miles is a large area for sure.

  9. All that crazy expensive hardware of that signal direction finding vehicle, I bet it's at least $10,000 worth of gear, and I can literally do the exact same thing with just as high of accuracy with $300 worth of gear.

  10. Is there restriction of airplanes flying over? Small planes have gasoline engines with spark plugs, and airplanes almost always have two-way radios for air traffic control communications, not to mention transponder and ADS-B broadcast. Is it an area that airplanes are allowed to fly through but only if they turn off their ADS-B and transponder, and don't broadcast on their radio?

  11. Ive visited a two of the largest radio telescopes in australia, at Parkes and tje array at Wee Waa and both times we drove up and parked within 200m of the dishes without a worry, why is this place so different?

  12. Also its interesting that WLAN as we know it today owes its existence to a bunch of radio astronomers that were also working on one the largest radio telescope arrays in the world.

  13. I hope this place gets nuked for banning WiFi and they are like the Amish who are arseholes
    And Dear Ryan Lynch to quote Kevin Magnussen, Suck my balls Honey

  14. I thought I couldn’t live without my phone but it broke and I didn’t get another one for a year after a few weeks you don’t really notice you don’t have a phone

  15. a microwave oven leaks about the power of 15 WiFis through the seal gap around the door, on the same frequency as Wi-Fi. I guess heating up food on stoves then.

  16. people can build optical wireless 10 Mbps full duplex 1.4 km for $200 of material and 70 hours of work see Twibright Ronja.

  17. so that means in the zone when people want to listen to music they dont have to spend 30 minutes randomly turning the bluetooth on their phone on and off and randomly restarting their speaker and trying pressing and holding random buttons on their speaker and search for a technical info label on their speaker to find out its model name?

  18. Damned aggravating. Mistakes made right at the very beginning. No, it is located in the Appalachian Mountains. Alleghenies are in Pennsylvania, folks. This lack of accuracy does not bode well for the rest of the documentary. And why must narrators be required to have British or, even more often, Australian accents? Perhaps narrators with foreign accents should go back home. Then we might get a local narrator who knows what is wrong with the script. Jobs for Americans for American documentaries, I say! [Later] Well, I must apologize. Apparently some folks do claim that the Alleghenies are indeed in WVa. However, I really don't think the locals call 'em that. And I'm still aggravated by the foreign-accented narrators. Ha. So there.

  19. I've been there! It was super cool. I was part of a college team using one of the smaller telescopes to measure the curve of the galaxy's disk. It was so quiet… And at night, you can actually see the Milky Way in the sky, along with so many stars you'd never see anywhere near a city! It's also super cool going into their computer rooms — they have basically a Faraday cage airlock, where you have to go in one big shielded door, lock it, and then open the other door to get into the room, and reverse of that to get out. Without your phone, you just gotta go to a computer if you want to contact anyone!

  20. I literally went there earlier this week to collect data on the presence of hydrogen using the 40 ft telescope it's really fun!

  21. Question, how does anyone within the strict area get packages delivered? Delivery companies have GPS trackers and internet connected scanners. Does everyone have to go and pick up things in person if you live there?

  22. Oh, so EMF sensitivities are psychosomatic? You obvious listen to the industry non testing BS. Ask the victims of cancer if it was all in their head, oh, they're dead. Since the government and industry will not do testing, it has been slow to evolve. EMF interferes with lots of bodily functions and can damage DNA. Take back your power is a great documentary to scratch the service.

  23. Serious question: Why is the testing women wearing a lavalier mic? Is it a wired one, or were you allowed to use it for some reason?

  24. Fantastic video – was going to ask about your video camera and radio mics, but found in the comments you'd mentioned it was a maintenance day, and you had hardwired mics.

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