Here at Vanaprastha, things are pretty quiet – literally. Vehicles traversing the mountain road and planes flying at high altitude interrupt nature’s symphony only briefly. Around our house, the geothermal HVAC system and modern appliances emit inaudible hums.
Last week, Keith, his brother and sister-in-law and I visited the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, home of the Green Bank Telescope, or as the natives say, the Great Big Thing. The GBT is in the National Radio Quiet Zone, a sparsely populated area straddling the border of West Virginia, northwestern Virginia and Maryland. Within this quiet zone, airwaves are regulated and static-producing radio waves are suppressed. Thus telescopes at Green Bank and the secure facility of Sugar Grove operate without disturbance.
According to a 2014 article in the National Geographic, “the GBT is exquisitely sensitive to even the faintest radio pulses coming from space. For the same reason, it is also extremely susceptible to electronic interference. Any device that generates electromagnetic radiation—a cell phone, a television, a wireless Internet router—can skew its data. And so the people who live in these parts must, by law, forego some of the gadgets that most of us take for granted.”
You might wonder how scientists use high tech equipment at this facility. They work within small or building-sized Faraday cages or shields that block outside electromagnetic energy. But it would be impractical to cage an entire town, let alone 13,000 square miles. Trees and mountains, as we’ve discovered at Vanaprastha, are natural shields.
On occasion, technicians pick up static and head out in a spotter truck. One recent culprit was an electric dog blanket with a short, easily replaced, problem solved. Older technologies are allowed – landline telephones, a low-frequency radio station, emergency service and ham radios – but imagine no microwaves or WiFi!
People who claim to suffer from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) say they’ve found relief from headaches, pain and muscle twitching after moving to the quiet zone. Although I haven’t noticed any EHS symptoms myself, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that the chatter of people talking on cell phones, of ringtones and chimes for incoming calls or texts, and the roar of air conditioners, airplanes, trains, sirens and traffic disturb my serenity.
So whenever I return to that noisy world, I create a quiet zone inside myself, my own Faraday cage. With human-made sounds filtered out, I can think, pray and sleep to the natural sounds here on earth.
How do you create quiet zones?