February 07, 2013, 9:28 AM —
Image credit: flickr/b3nscott
Students at a tiny Appalachian public school can't use Wi-Fi because any such network can throw the radio equivalent of a monkey wrench into a gigantic super-sensitive radio telescope just up the road.
Green Bank Elementary/Middle School is located just over half a mile away from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The NRAO says the 17 million-pound telescope is the most advanced of its kind in the world, boasting 2 acres of surface area which it uses to collect radio signals from around the cosmos. The facility studies everything from pulsars to the formation of stars to the movement of gigantic gas clouds in distant galaxies.
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However, the GBT's extraordinary sensitivity means that it's very susceptible to human-generated radio interference, according to site interference protection engineer Carla Beaudet.
"If there was no dirt between us and the transmitter, a typical access point ... would have to be on the order of 1,000,000 km [more than 620,000 miles, or about two and a half times the distance from the Earth to the Moon] distant to not interfere. Fortunately, we have mountains around us which provide lots of attenuation, so we're not seeing everything from everywhere," she said in an email to Network World.
A standard Wi-Fi access point would wipe out a significant range of usable frequencies for the observatory.
"It simply ruins the spectrum for observations from 2400-2483.5MHz and from 5725-5875MHz for observational purposes," wrote Beaudet.