The Unexplained: Listening for voices from outer space

The world’s largest radio telescope is taller than the Statue of Liberty and searches for signals of extraterrestrial intelligence.

To go to this much trouble and spend all of this money, many scientists do think there is other intelligent life out there.

Four hours west of the nation’s capital is a place that seems to exist in a time gone past.  In 2010 Green Bank, West Virginia, had a population of 143.  In 2020, that count has expanded to a whopping  257.  The community is located in a hollow in the center of the Allegheny Mountain range.  It is known as the National Radio Quiet Zone.  The people that live here want it to be quiet and cooperate to make it so.  The village is literally as quiet as quiet can be.

The quietest town in America—this is what Green Bank, West Virginia, has been called.  Devices that emit radio waves have been outlawed.  This includes microwave ovens, cell phones, and WiFi routers.  This allows scientists to have minimum interference for the eight radio telescopes situated in the area.

The outstanding telescope of this group is the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.    It is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope.  At 485 feet high, it is taller than the Statue of Liberty.  It weighs 17 million pounds and the dish is 330 feet across.  This expensive piece of equipment is deformed by gravity over time, and it has the capability of measuring the deformity and correcting itself.

The purpose of radio telescopes is to scoop up radio waves from the cosmos.  Astronomers analyze these emissions. They are looking for patterns—intelligent patterns.

If it is presumed that there is no other intelligent life out there, why on earth are there over 100 of these radio telescopes worldwide, some, very sophisticated and sensitive?  One would have to conclude that to go to all of this trouble and spend all of this money, many scientists do think there is other intelligent life out there.

The Drake Equation is a formula for estimating the probability of discovering intelligent life in the cosmos.  It was developed by Frank Drake. Shortly after he received his doctorate from Harvard, around 1959, the astronomer went to work on Project Ozma which was his first search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

He concentrated on listening for artificial radio signals from two nearby stars that might have orbiting planets.  When his search came up empty he began work on the Drake Equation.  His groundbreaking work set the standard for advancement in the search for life in the Universe at Green Bank.

Not since the WOW signal, in 1977, has another outer space signal been so enticing.  Surely something intelligent made that signal and aimed it outward—whether it was aiming it at other worlds, or not.

Something almost as intriguing happened in February.  On February 19, 2020, it was revealed that there were radio signal patterns coming from outer space.  They were coming from a galaxy that is half a billion light-years distant.  The signals are called FRBs, Fast Radio Bursts.  These particular FRBs come in 16-day patterns.  The signals beam out for four days, cease for twelve days, then beam out for four days again, and so on and so on.

In an effort to fine-tune the effectiveness of the radios telescopes, a new project is planned.  What would happen if a radio telescope were cruising on the other side of the moon, with no earth signals to interfere?  The moon would act as a barrier.  The new project is DARE, which stands for Dark Ages Radio Explorer.  This is only proposed, and not yet in operation.  When it is up and running, the earthly radio signals will not interfere with the reception from the cosmos—something to think about, indeed.


Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Gris Gris, a mystery set in the voodoo shadows of New Orleans. Please click HERE to find the novel on Amazon.

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