There is no Wi-Fi. There are no mobile phones. There are no microwaves. There are no automatic sliding doors. This is what life is like in the area around the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. And as you enter the gates, even gasoline cars are banned. This is what we sacrifice when we go hunting for aliens.

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is a radio telescope, looking for signs of life in distant galaxies. It’s the world’s largest steerable telescope, scanning the sky for any faint hint of someone else out there.

And to find what it’s looking for, it has to listen very, very carefully.

“The types of energies we look at are less than the energy of a single snowflake falling on the earth,” Karen O’Neill, the Green Bank site director, told NPR.

Because of the sensitivity, blocking out all possible interference is of crucial importance. That’s why Green Bank Observatory sits at the centre of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a federally protected, 33,670 square kilometre area in West Virginia and Maryland where radio transmissions are strictly regulated. West Virginia has also codified strict controls on radio equipment in the area into its local state laws.

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