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Enjoy the photo exhibition in the Old Observatory from home

Two radio telescopes in Green Bank, West Virginia have brought together a few remarkable people. A new photo exhibition in the Old Observatory visitor centre gives an insight into the remote community. Due to the corona crisis, the Observatory is not open to the public. That’s why we’ve selected a few highlights from the exhibition to share here.

Radio silence

It covers an area almost the size of the Netherlands: the radio quiet zone in Pocahontas county, West Virginia. Using mobile phones or Wi-Fi is not allowed, because in the middle of the quiet zone stand the Green Bank Observatory, five giant radio telescopes. Every bit of electromagnetic radiation can influence sensitive measurements and undo precious scientific work.

The absence of interfering radiation has led to generations of astronomers coming to the remote town in the Appalachians. But the ban on Wi-Fi has also attracted a group of people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity, people who claim that mobile phones and other devices cause illness. In a town of only 143, that results in a curious mixture of astronomers, sceptics and the locals who have been living in the hills self-sufficiently for generations.

It was this rare confluence of people that led photographers Paul Kranzler and Andrew Phelps to West Virginia to document the life in Green Bank. The exhibition The Drake Equation is the result, proving you don’t have to go into deep space to find interesting forms of life. Wired, National Geographic and the New York Times have previously written about the photo project.

Extra-terrestrial life

The exhibition is named after the famous equation by American astronomer Frank Drake. His eponymous equation, which he drew up while working and living in Green Bank, is a mathematical formula that can be used to estimate the number of intelligent life forms in the universe.

Enter the number of stars that are formed, the number of stars that have Earth-like planets, and the chance that life arises on such a planet and you should get a rough estimate of the number of extra-terrestrial life forms. The exact numbers you fill in strongly influence the end result of the equation. A conservative estimate leads to the conclusion that Earth is the only planet with intelligent life. But according to others the number of alien civilisations might be as high as 15 million.

One of the many small houses tucked away in the Green Bank woods.
One of the residents with electromagnetic hypersensitivity puts together an unknown device.
Equipment in the depths of the radio telescope.
An astronomer carefully studies new research data.
A fake deer serves as target practice for local hunters.
Scene from the local bar where all of Green Bank's visitors meet.
A radio telescope rises up from a boggy forest.
Plans for a radiation free city.
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