Home / SCIENCE / Photo Essay: Science in silence in National Radio Quiet Zone

Photo Essay: Science in silence in National Radio Quiet Zone

 GREEN BANK, W.Va. (AP) — In these parts, a pay phone is a visitor’s best option for reaching the rest of the world. A cell phone signal is an hour away by car. Wifi is forbidden. The radio plays nothing but static. And other than the occasional passing pickup truck whose driver offers a wave, it’s dead silent.

Seemingly off the beaten path, this community of fewer than two hundred residents is the heart of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area where state and federal laws discourage the use of everyday devices that emit electromagnetic waves. The quiet zone aims to protect sensitive radio telescopes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, as well as a nearby Naval research facility, from man-made interference. This silence enables the observatory to detect energy in outer space that is equivalent to the energy emitted by a single snowflake hitting the ground.

While scientists listen intently for clues from the universe on its structure and origins, residents in some of the timeworn railroad towns in this valley maintain a fundamentally tech-less lifestyle that for most Americans is a memory. More than 90% of American adults have a cell phone today, yet some locals fondly recall ditching their wireless device after moving here. After all, it’s useless, and that’s fine by them.

Here is a gallery of images from the National Radio Quiet Zone.

Photo Gallery: Science in silence in Radio Quiet Zone

In this Nov. 13, 2013 photo shot through the window of a phone booth, a truck passes through Head Waters, Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. A 2013 Pew Internet poll reported that 91% of Americans have a cell phone. The National Radio Quiet Zone, where pay phones are easier to find than a cell phone signal, may be the last holdout in the continued growth of wireless technology. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, walks on the 2.3 acre surface of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope's dish in Green Bank, W.Va. Scientists use the telescope to conduct a wide range of research, picking up faint signals that aid in the study of the origins and structure of the universe. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, walks on the 2.3 acre surface of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope’s dish in Green Bank, W.Va. Scientists use the telescope to conduct a wide range of research, picking up faint signals that aid in the study of the origins and structure of the universe. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, walks out of a shed underneath the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, W.Va. Standing taller than the Statue of Liberty, it's the largest fully-steerable radio telescope in the world. It's also incredibly sensitive -- so sensitive that it is able to detect energy in outer space that is equivalent to the energy emitted by a single snowflake hitting the ground. The quiet zone allows scientists to hear these faint signals that would otherwise be obscured by man-made interference. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, walks out of a shed underneath the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, W.Va. Standing taller than the Statue of Liberty, it’s the largest fully-steerable radio telescope in the world. It’s also incredibly sensitive — so sensitive that it is able to detect energy in outer space that is equivalent to the energy emitted by a single snowflake hitting the ground. The quiet zone allows scientists to hear these faint signals that would otherwise be obscured by man-made interference. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope towers over farmland as dusk falls in Green Bank, W.Va. Officials at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory chose the site for its remote location and mountainous surroundings, which help to keep distant radio waves outside of the quiet zone at bay, while interference inside the zone is restricted by state and federal laws. The National Radio Quiet Zone enables scientists to hear faint signals from outer space that would otherwise be easily obscured by man-made interference. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope towers over farmland as dusk falls in Green Bank, W.Va. Officials at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory chose the site for its remote location and mountainous surroundings, which help to keep distant radio waves outside of the quiet zone at bay, while interference inside the zone is restricted by state and federal laws. The National Radio Quiet Zone enables scientists to hear faint signals from outer space that would otherwise be easily obscured by man-made interference. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 13, 2013 photo, sunlight peaks through trees as a car winds down a mountain road in Highland County, Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. The 13,000 square-mile quiet zone -- larger than the state of Maryland -- protects a sensitive radio astronomy facility located just over the border in Pocahontas County, W.Va., as well as a nearby Naval research facility, from interference created by cell phones and other everyday devices that emit electromagnetic waves. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 13, 2013 photo, sunlight peaks through trees as a car winds down a mountain road in Highland County, Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. The 13,000 square-mile quiet zone — larger than the state of Maryland — protects a sensitive radio astronomy facility located just over the border in Pocahontas County, W.Va., as well as a nearby Naval research facility, from interference created by cell phones and other everyday devices that emit electromagnetic waves. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Betty Mullenax walks behind a checkout stand at Trent's General Store in Arbovale, W.Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. "We've never known any other way," she said of life without cell phones. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Betty Mullenax walks behind a checkout stand at Trent’s General Store in Arbovale, W.Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. “We’ve never known any other way,” she said of life without cell phones. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, discarded furniture and other belongings sit inside an abandoned home in Cass, W.Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. Home to many early-20th century railroad towns, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory settled on Pocahontas County in the 1950s in part because there was no industry in the area that posed the threat of creating radio frequency interference. Today, some of those railroad towns attract tourists, as does the observatory, but remnants of an old way of life persist. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, discarded furniture and other belongings sit inside an abandoned home in Cass, W.Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. Home to many early-20th century railroad towns, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory settled on Pocahontas County in the 1950s in part because there was no industry in the area that posed the threat of creating radio frequency interference. Today, some of those railroad towns attract tourists, as does the observatory, but remnants of an old way of life persist. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Vickie Croston sits in her ten-foot by ten-foot, one-chair barber shop in Cass, W.Va., a former sawmill town inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. Croston's shop has no phone, and she doesn't want one. Nor does she care for a cell phone. If cell phone service was allowed, "it would be noisy. The same as everywhere else." (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Vickie Croston sits in her ten-foot by ten-foot, one-chair barber shop in Cass, W.Va., a former sawmill town inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. Croston’s shop has no phone, and she doesn’t want one. Nor does she care for a cell phone. If cell phone service was allowed, “it would be noisy. The same as everywhere else.” (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, part of a shuttered sawmill that closed in 1960 stands near the banks of the Greenbrier River in Cass, W.Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory settled on Pocahontas County and its early-20th century railroad towns in part because there was no industry in the area that posed the threat of creating radio frequency interference. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, part of a shuttered sawmill that closed in 1960 stands near the banks of the Greenbrier River in Cass, W.Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory settled on Pocahontas County and its early-20th century railroad towns in part because there was no industry in the area that posed the threat of creating radio frequency interference. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

 

In this Nov. 13, 2013 photo, weathered instructions for using a pay phone are seen inside a phone booth in Head Waters, Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. Just over the border in Pocahontas County, W.Va., where the National Radio Observatory is located, the local tourism bureau provides visitors with a list of pay phone locations in case they need to reach the outside world. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 13, 2013 photo, weathered instructions for using a pay phone are seen inside a phone booth in Head Waters, Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. Just over the border in Pocahontas County, W.Va., where the National Radio Observatory is located, the local tourism bureau provides visitors with a list of pay phone locations in case they need to reach the outside world. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, inspects part of a feed horn, a device that converts radio waves that are received by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, in Green Bank, W.Va. The quiet zone enables scientists to conduct sensitive research while surrounded by near silence. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, inspects part of a feed horn, a device that converts radio waves that are received by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, in Green Bank, W.Va. The quiet zone enables scientists to conduct sensitive research while surrounded by near silence. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stands on a platform atop the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, W.Va. While the observatory is situated in a rural area, the rapid increase of technology in American households over the last 15 years has made the job of keeping the surroundings interference-free a challenge. Observatory employees regularly patrol a 10-mile radius surrounding the facility to mitigate electromagnetic interference emitted by everyday items like cordless phones, wireless routers, microwave ovens and even electric blankets. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stands on a platform atop the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, W.Va. While the observatory is situated in a rural area, the rapid increase of technology in American households over the last 15 years has made the job of keeping the surroundings interference-free a challenge. Observatory employees regularly patrol a 10-mile radius surrounding the facility to mitigate electromagnetic interference emitted by everyday items like cordless phones, wireless routers, microwave ovens and even electric blankets. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

 

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stands on a platform atop the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, W.Va. While the observatory is situated in a rural area, the rapid increase of technology in American households over the last 15 years has made the job of keeping the surroundings interference-free a challenge. Observatory employees regularly patrol a 10-mile radius surrounding the facility to mitigate electromagnetic interference emitted by everyday items like cordless phones, wireless routers, microwave ovens and even electric blankets. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 14, 2013 photo, Michael Holstine, business manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stands on a platform atop the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, W.Va. While the observatory is situated in a rural area, the rapid increase of technology in American households over the last 15 years has made the job of keeping the surroundings interference-free a challenge. Observatory employees regularly patrol a 10-mile radius surrounding the facility to mitigate electromagnetic interference emitted by everyday items like cordless phones, wireless routers, microwave ovens and even electric blankets. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 13, 2013 photo, a phone booth stands on the side of a road in Head Waters, Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. While pay phones have all but disappeared in the United States, they still can be found in this part of the country, where a cell phone signal is hard to come by. The quiet zone, which has been in place since 1958, aims to protect sensitive telescopes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, as well as a nearby Naval research facility, from interference created by cell phones and other everyday devices that emit electromagnetic waves. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Nov. 13, 2013 photo, a phone booth stands on the side of a road in Head Waters, Va., inside the National Radio Quiet Zone. While pay phones have all but disappeared in the United States, they still can be found in this part of the country, where a cell phone signal is hard to come by. The quiet zone, which has been in place since 1958, aims to protect sensitive telescopes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, as well as a nearby Naval research facility, from interference created by cell phones and other everyday devices that emit electromagnetic waves. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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