It was a beautiful fall day today in West Virginia. Hopefully this weather holds for the rest of the week. We visited the future at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Green Bank Science Center and the past at the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, a trip that bridged over a hundred years.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) was founded in Green Bank, WV in 1956 as the United States first national science facility. Its goal was to provide the scientific community with the best radio telescopes in the world. The first telescope on site was an 85-foot kit antenna. Smaller antennas for special purposes were used on site before an enormous 300-foot mesh-covered dish was built in the 1960's. In 1965, NRAO completed construction of the world's largest equatorially-mounted telescope, the 140-foot. In 2000, Green Bank became home to the world's largest, fully steerable and most accurate single dish radio telescope in the world, the Green Bank Telescope. It was built after the original 300-foot dish collapsed due to metal fatigue in 1988.
NRAO covers 2,700 acres in Green Bank and is a scientific and engineering village in the middle of the Appalachian heartland. Green Bank was chosen as the site for the radio telescope facility because of its rural quietness. The mountain-rimmed valley was nearly free from the radio interference that swamps other areas. It is in the middle of a National Radio Quiet Zone, some 13,000 square miles in WV and VA, established by the FCC in 1958 to protect the site from "noise pollution" like radio and TV transmissions. There is little or no cell service in the valley where the NRAO is located (including our campground). Those living in Green Bank are regularly monitored for stray RF emissions that would interfere with detecting weak radio signals from space. The on-site computing centers, the Science Hall, and even the microwave oven in the snack bar are enclosed in "Faraday cages", copper mesh or copper sheeting on walls, ceilings, and windows, to prevent stray electromagnetic interference. On the bus tour of the facility, we had to turn off cell phones and digital cameras once we entered the 1.5 mile perimeter around the big radio telescope so no pictures up close of the Robert C. Bird Radiotelescope (GBT). I did manage to get a couple from both on and off the property.
We left Green Bank for a short ride into the past at the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. Cass is an old company town that was originally established to serve the needs of the men who worked in the nearby mountains cutting spruce and hemlock for the West Virginia Spruce Lumber Company, a subsidiary of West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company. A sawmill was built at Cass to process the hardwoods and was the largest double-band sawmill in the world. By 1960, the timber industry in the area had experienced a rapid decline and caused the town and railroad to be abandoned and the equipment sold to a company that intended to scrap as much as they could. A group of local businessmen convinced the West Virginia state legislature to make the Cass Railroad a state park. In 1963, the first tourist excursion train left the Cass depot. In 1977, the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park took possession of the entire company town of Cass, and the old hardwood mill in Cass. The old company houses are now available to rent for vacation while the company store operates selling souvenirs and snacks. We didn't ride the trains out of Cass today, but we will be riding the Durbin Rocket from the train station near our campground in Durbin. Stay tuned.