The Land Where the Internet Ends

To find real solitude, you have to go out of range. But every year that’s harder to do, as America’s off-the-grid places disappear.

By Pagan Kennedy | Photographs by Damon Winter
Contributing Opinion Writer
June 21, 2019

GREEN BANK, W.Va. — A few weeks ago, I drove down a back road in West Virginia and into a parallel reality. Sometime after I passed Spruce Mountain, my phone lost service — and I knew it would remain comatose for the next few days. When I spun the dial on the car radio, static roared out of every channel. I had entered the National Radio Quiet Zone, 13,000 square miles of mountainous terrain with few cell towers or other transmitters.

I was headed toward Green Bank, a town that adheres to the strictest ban on technology in the United States. The residents do without not only cellphones but also Wi-Fi, microwave ovens and any other devices that generate electromagnetic signals.

The ban exists to protect the Green Bank Observatory, a cluster of radio telescopes in a mountain valley. Conventional telescopes are like superpowered eyes. The instruments at Green Bank are more like superhuman ears — they can tune into frequencies from the lowest to the highest ends of the spectrum. The telescopes are powerful enough to detect the death throes of a star, but also terribly vulnerable to our loud world. Even a short-circuiting electric toothbrush could blot out the whisper of the Big Bang.

Read the rest of the story on The New York Times site.

The Green Bank Telescope Discovering Interstellar Organic Molecules

aromatic molecule benzonitrile was detected by the GBT in the Taurus Molecular Cloud 1 (TMC-1). Credit: B. McGuire, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)
The aromatic molecule benzonitrile was detected by the GBT in the Taurus Molecular Cloud 1 (TMC-1). Credit: B. McGuire, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Summary: Astronomers using the Green Bank Telescope have made the first definitive interstellar detection of benzonitrile, an intriguing organic molecule that helps to chemically link simple carbon-based molecules and truly massive ones known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. This discovery is a vital clue in a 30-year-old mystery: identifying the source of a faint infrared glow that permeates the Milky Way and other galaxies.

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