Green Bank, West Virginia is sometimes called "the quietest place in America." It's also home to a very, very large telescope.
The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is the largest moveable telescope in the world, and it's so important and so sensitive that the town of Green Bank, West Virginia works inside a U.S. National Radio Quiet Zone, which limits its electromagnetic frequencies. As a result, the entire town has limited Wi-Fi, no cordless phones or cellphones, no microwaves and no anything that can create electromagnetic signals.
"There are maybe 40 or 50 Wi-Fi routers that could be causing harmful radio frequency interference to the telescope," Jonah Bauserman, a National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) technician told Discovery Digital Network's Seeker Stories.
While the telescope is the driving force behind the quiet zone, and has enabled scientists to study things going on far away in the universe like stars being formed or galaxies dying, it's also done something else: created a safe haven for people believed to be suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).
In the video below, several women describe symptoms such as headaches, nausea and weight loss that they have attributed to their EHS. While evidence for EHS is convoluted, and the World Health Organization has concluded that there is no known "medical, psychiatric or psychological" cause for the syndrome, the women still found refuge in Green Bank. One woman expressed her frustration towards people that deny her EHS exists.
"They're uneducated, they are close-minded, and they're selfish," she said. "It is real and it is true... By getting away, I was able to recover."
Bauserman, the technician, drives around in a 10 mile radius of the telescope to make sure there aren't electromagnetic frequencies. All the people living in Green Bank have signed a rental agreement that says they are not allowed to have microwaves, cordless phones or Wi-Fi, though it's unclear how or if the laws are enforced.
Regardless, it's amazing to see a small town that went against the grain to support science and ended up supporting an entire group of people who can now use Green Bank as a safe haven.