Observing Green Bank: Inside the search for new stars, planets, - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Observing Green Bank: Inside the search for new stars, planets, and extra-terrestrial life


 Green Bank (WVVA) Imagine a world where cell phones, WI-fi, and even some microwaves are outlawed, a place where the biggest crime is turning on an I-Pad. It is a real place and it is right here in Southern West Virginia. 

Green Bank is home to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and some of the most cutting edge astronomy in the world. 

On the surface, Green Bank looks like any other town. There's a gas station, a school, and playgrounds. But there is something extraordinary happening there. Rising above it all is the Robert C. Byrd Telescope, where residents say even the smallest interference could compromise cutting-edge research.

"Cell phones, I don't miss it. When our kids come to visit, they don't text, they don't get on WI-fi, it's great," said Green Bank resident, Jim Anderton. 

"Because of our proximity to the telescope, we can't use WI-fi, it will interfere," added Green Bank resident, Arnold Stewart. 

Chief Astronomer Felix Lockman has been working with the telescope since 2002, making discoveries on everything from new stars to solar systems off the Milky Way. "Among other things, we've discovered there is a huge cloud of gas that's coming into the Milky Way and bringing new gas to make a million solar systems like with our own planets." 

According to Lockman, if there is life on other planets, the discovery could be made at Green Bank. "There have been searches for radio signals around nearby stars that are known to have planets. So far, they've all been unsuccessful, but there are people still trying."

The telescope sits at the heart of the National Radio Quiet Zone, 30 miles from the U.S. Navy Base at Sugar Grove. In 2013, the base was named in a report leaked by former N.S.A. contractor, Edward Snowden, as a site for U.S. government ease dropping operations. According to Lockman, though, they wouldn't know anything about that at Green Bank. "There's been a couple misconceptions about our work here and one is that we're doing top secret work. We're not. We're a very open place. We have a visitor's center and we invite people to come here and take a tour to see what we're doing here. We're very proud of the research that we're doing here."

On a clear night, Lockman said Green Bank has a front row seat to all of the goings-on of the universe. Insulated by the Alleghany Mountains, residents can frequently catch a glimpse of a shooting star and sometimes even the International Space Station.

"It's like a big, bright light. You've got about 30 seconds to see it then it disappears into the shadows," said resident Arnold Stewart. 

As for feeling cut off from the rest of planet Earth, for the most part, residents in Green Bank seem to like it. "Just the privilege that we have being in this part of the world, I think it's one of the most special places in the planet," added Anderton. 

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