Country Roads – Day 5 – National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Green Bank Telescope from observation deck

Leaving the early 1900’s of the Cass Scenic Railroad we traveled warp speed (70MPH) to the National Radio Astronomy  Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank.

Green Bank is a tiny town (population 143) in Pocahontas County. It is the center of the National Radio Quiet Zone., a 13,000 square mile area designated by the FCC to protect two government radio telescopes from man-made interference. Wireless signals in this area are illegal. No cell phones. No WIFI. No radio. No Bluetooth. No electronic transmitters  at all. The rule is so strict that NRAO has Security Police that drives around looking for stray signals.

The reason for the severity is because Green Bank is the home of the Green Bank Telescope, the largest steerable radio telescope in the world.

Here’s some facts about the Green Bank Telescope:

  • It operates 24 / 7 / 365
  • The telescope is 485 feet tall. It’s taller than the Statue of Liberty, and nearly as tall as the Washington Monument
  • It weighs 17 million pounds – as much as 20 fully loaded Boeing 747’s
  • Despite it’s weight, the telescope can be pointed with an accuracy on one arc second (that’s equivalent to the width of a human hair seen from 66 feet away)
  • The surface of the telescope is made up of 2004 metal panels, and is almost 2.3 acres. The same size as two football fields
  • The telescope only receives signals from space, never send them.

NRAO has a guided tour which costs $6.00 per person. The cost is well worth the experience. Our tour guide was from Australia, which was kind of strange listening to her explain the science center, and performing an experiment with liquid nitrogen and a balloon. After a quick 15 minute film we all boarded a bus that took us through the gates of the “restricted zone”. Once through the gates, we were not allowed to operate any electronic devices. No cell phones or digital cameras. You are allowed to take picture of the telescope from the observation deck which is 1.5 miles miles from the telescope. The bus tour shows you examples of telescopes from the 1950’s up to the Green Bank Telescope (dedicated to Senator Robert C Byrd in 2011). Visitors are not required to take the guided tour, anyone can walk the two-mile oval drive. Even though it was a beautiful day, we decided to take the bus.

Tomorrow we head south to Charleston to visit the Vandalia Gathering, an outdoor event at the State Capital filled with music, food, and local crafts. The weather forecast is sunny with temperatures in the low 70’s so it should be a great day all around.

Daily Expenses:

  • Dining Out $56.37
  • Attractions $12.00
  • Campsite $42.17

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