Green Bank, WV – July 2015 – Listening to Outer Space

Monday morning, as we were headed to our next destination we found ourselves at the birthplace and childhood home of Pearl S Buck. This small house is a picturesque valley with the fog rising in the background was memorable.

Further along we had a noteworthy drive along the Highlands Scenic Highway, a National Forest Scenic Byway, is the highest major roadway in West Virginia and extends 43 miles with rises from an elevation of 2,300 feet to over 4,500 feet.

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Four scenic overlooks located along the Parkway portion of the Highway provide spectacular views of the Allegheny Highlands. It was a beautiful drive, interrupted only by a brief stop in a high country bog for a hike across the boardwalk.

Our destination that morning was the town of Green Bank, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. NRAO is the operator of the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, the Robert C. Byrd (of course) Green Bank Telescope, The observatory contains several other telescopes, among them the 140-foot telescope that utilizes an equatorial mount uncommon for radio telescopes, three 85-foot telescopes forming the Green Bank Interferometer and others.

Green Bank is in the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, which is coordinated by NRAO for protection of the Green Bank. The zone consists of a 13,000-square-mile piece of land where fixed transmitters must coordinate their emissions before a license is granted. The land was set aside by the FCC in 1958.

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After visiting the onsite museum, we went on a tour of the telescopes. Because of the sensitivity of the telescopes to radio signals, and all digital cameras put off RF, they were prohibited. You were however allowed to talk film cameras, but of course, nobody has those. The Byrd telescope is amazing in its complexity and size. To think something the size of a football field can pivot like it does is a great engineering feat.

Our tour consisted of a man and his college age daughter, as well as about 20 elderly people who were members of a RV club. These people asked some of the dumbest questions imaginable. For example, when the docent explained they had leased out time on one of the telescopes to someone from Russia, someone asked ‘is it because them Russians are too dumb to make their own’. The tour, which should’ve taken 45 minutes, took an hour and a half

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After our tour was completed we started for home, with a stop in Helvetia, a very small town back in the mountains that was settled by Swiss in the late 1800s. Since some of my ancestors settled there when arriving from Switzerland, I always like to pay a visit when I am anywhere remotely close.

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Today there are a few business and other buildings that retain the Swiss feel, primarily for the tourist trade. Since this trip was on a weekday, the local general store/post office was open. The two ladies working there were great to talk to, and they had a display of the Fastnacht masks. Fastnacht is the one day they let loose, drink beer, hide behind the mask, be someone else, and forget about the consequences; party and dance until late into the night, before the Lent observances begin.

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Lunch at the Hutte Restaurant provided some more good Swiss/German food, and set us up for our long drive home.