Yes, it’s true, and not in a third-world country but in West Virginia. The town is Green Bank nestled in the Allegheny Mountains. No, they were not cut off by zombies but just by being too close to the Green Bank Radio Telescope. It sits inside the US National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ), an area of 13,000 square miles with strict limits on radio emissions.
The NRQZ is a large area of land in the United States designated as a radio quiet zone, in which radio transmissions are heavily restricted by law to facilitate scientific research and the gathering of military intelligence. The area is patrolled, with trucks equipped with emission detection devices.
In Green Bank, you can’t use radios, cell phones, cordless phones, tablets, microwave ovens, remote control toys, garage door openers, Bluetooth, or any Wi-Fi devices. The quiet zone gets drastically more restrictive the closer you get to Green Bank, home to the world’s largest steerable radio telescope, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
The main telescope weighs 17 million pounds, spans about 2 acres wide, and stretches 485 feet into the air. Several smaller telescopes are sprinkled around it amid 2,700 acres of parkland. Leave your phone and a digital camera behind. Only diesel engines are used on the premises because spark plugs interfere with radio signals. Even the lawnmowers are diesel!
The telescope can hear sounds from hundreds of millions of miles away and attracts some of the leading researchers in the world. A decade ago, scientists noticed a sporadic, intense signal coming from nearby. It turned out to be a heating pad in a doghouse.
When the dog got wet and slept on the blanket, the heating pad sent outbursts of energy that disrupted work at the observatory. The solution: Scientists bought a waterproof heating pad. “We’re happy, the dog’s happy.”
Microwaves release a small but, to this telescope, noticeable radio wave when heating. These mysterious radio waves were all coming from scattered sources instead of a single point of origin like a deep space signal. They also got worse around lunchtime, hmmm.
Placing the microwave in a special enclosure will allow its use in the area. A Faraday cage is an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields. A Faraday shield may be formed by a continuous covering of conductive material, or in the case of a Faraday cage, by a mesh of such materials.
Faraday cages are named after scientist Michael Faraday, who invented them in 1836. Beyond the residents who stray from the rules, arcing power lines and cut cable lines that are not capped are most problematic. Satellites beaming down and aircraft using radar can cause problems, too. Within a mile of the telescope, only diesel vehicles are allowed because spark plugs could overwhelm the sounds from galaxies. Workers communicate using walkie-talkies on very specific frequencies. This area has attracted people who believe they suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Count me out.