GREEN BANK, W.Va. — Would you believe there’s a place where no one can use a cell phone? Where Wi-Fi is not allowed? Where even finding a radio station can be a difficult task?
There’s a town in West Virginia a few hours to south of Pittsburgh where all that is true.
Green Bank is a place where you can hear nature. Where you can hear yourself think. And that’s because some very important listening is going on.
You see, Green Bank is home to the largest moveable radio telescope in the world.
“For people in the immediate area of the telescope, we really need the quiet,” said Jay Lockman from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
They’re trying to pick up very faint signals from outer space, so people in this small town can’t have some of today’s modern conveniences.
“I guess in some sense, you can say they can’t have 2016,” said Lockman. “They’re living in 1990.”
For starters, cell phones do not work here. But people here, including Sherry Chestnut at Trent’s General Store, they don’t miss them.
“Absolutely not cause I’ve never had one!” said Chestnut. “So I don’t have anything to miss.”
“Emergency-wise it would be nice to have one,” said Debbie Birely, who also works at Trent’s. “But for peacefulness, we don’t need ’em.”
At the store, which is near Green Bank, they’ll let you use their landline if you’re passing through. Or you can use one of the town’s payphones.
“People come and ask where can I go to get phone service around here, and they act like they’re pretty aggravated,” said Chestnut.
Wi-Fi isn’t allowed here either.
Even microwave ovens closest to the telescope have to be in protective steel boxes.
Your car radio will just scan for stations without finding much.
And when a Dollar General opened, even the automatic doors had to be changed out because they were interfering with the telescope.
People who moved here from elsewhere admit: “It was kind of a culture shock at first, but I got so used to it, I don’t need it,” said Birely.
Green Bank is in the middle of something called the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13-thousand square mile area where radio transmissions are strictly restricted. Otherwise, the work done here would be difficult at best.
“It would be like trying to listen to music with a jackhammer nearby,” said Lockman.
The largest telescope here towers over the countryside.
It’s 500 feet tall and has a dish big enough to fit two football fields side by side and still have room for bleachers.
Each of the dish’s individual panels are the size of a dining room table, and there are 2,000 of them.
“We need that large collection area because the signals we’re trying to pick up are almost unbelievably faint,” said Lockman.
Lockman is the principal scientist of the telescope and says they study a variety of things.
“It can be as varied as studying the interior of the planet to looking at quasars,” said Lockman.
They even spend part of their time looking for life in outer space.
KDKA’s David Highfield: “So if there’s alien life, you guys might know first?”
Lockman: “We might know first, yes!”
While that kind of discovery may rock the world, for now, life here in Green Bank remains quiet.
It has a population of about 145, and some people are actually moving there.
People who believe they’re electro-sensitive and think cell phone signals and Wi-Fi are making them sick, are among Green Bank’s newest residents. The sickness is controversial in the medical world.
While people may wonder how residents of Green Bank and the surrounding area manage without cellphones, many people who live there actually relish the idea that life in this area of West Virginia is about all about an easier time.
“It’s when we all played outside, and you didn’t sit on the computer all the time,” said Chestnut. “I would not change this place for anything.”