US village is cell phone free and loving it

US village is cell phone free and loving it
Seeking escape from headaches caused by electromagnetic hypersensitivity, Charles Meckna moved to stay near the world's most sensitive radio telescope.

GREEN BANK, United States - In this rural speck of hyper-connected America, it's easier to hear a cow moo than a cell phone ring.

That's because Green Bank is home to the world's most sensitive radio telescope, a device that catches the birth and death of stars and signals so faint they are mere whispers from space.

And, since the electronics of mobile phones and WiFi grids would mess with that delicate task, here technology that's taken for granted in much of the world is severely restricted or banned outright.

And a side effect of that radio silence is that Green Bank, population 143, has become a mecca for people who are sick - literally - of electromagnetic waves.

They claim the migraines and other ailments they blamed on cell phones go away.

Charles Meckna, 53, is one such refugee. He moved here in July from Nebraska in the Mid-West, fleeing electromagnetic waves he said were making him seriously ill.

For him, the radio telescope is a saviour.

"If we happen to lose the radiotelescope, it's done," Meckna said, as he built a shed outside his small home in this town 350k east of Washington, DC.

Green Bank and the area around it in Pocahontas County are in the heart of a so-called "Quiet Zone" declared in 1958 to shield scientists' super-keen eye on the universe.

Standing 150m tall, with a white dish 100m in diameter, the telescope operates day and night capturing signals from space.

"We can look at the birth of stars, the death of stars," said Michael Holstine, business manager at what is formally known as the National Radio Astronomy Laboratory.

"This is the most sensitive radio telescope on the planet," he said.

It can detect a signal that has the equivalent energy to the impact of one snowflake hitting the ground. But to achieve that, the radio environment has to be hush-hush quiet.

A one-of-a-kind "National Radio Quiet Zone" is observed around the telescope over an area of 33,000 square kilometers (13,000 square miles).

Radio transmissions have to be at a frequency as low as possible.

In a radius of 16km around the telescope, anything that gives off a radio wave - WiFi, cell phones, TV remote controls or micro-wave ovens - is banned or restricted.

When you are trying to monitor a quasar, for example - super-distant, massive celestial objects that give off tremendous amounts of energy - a cell phone signal is like a loud, bothersome noise, Holstine said.

"A quasar typically gives a signal which is a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a watt. A cell phone is about two watts," he said.

"It will completely drown out what the astronomers are trying to receive," he added.

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