Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Friday, June 16, 2017

West Virginia: Cass Ride

Cass, WV and Radio Telescope - 

Our BMW Ontario Motorcycle Club had their annual spring tour, this year it was visiting PA and WV; these are some of the best riding places in the North East of the U.S. Where else can you ride for 2 solid hours at almost unlimited speed and meet only one car or two. Literally, after 2 hours I ran into a traffic light, forcing me to slow down, even stop. That happens very rarely to me when riding in the North East of the U.S.  Usually, I share the road with any kind of traffic and the closeness of towns makes it difficult to crank up the speed. Oh, I know that the folks in Montana cringe when they read this, but NY State or NJ are just not good for riding the twisties at speed. 
Company Store On Left of Main Building, Restaurant in Middle and Museum on Far Right With Train Station in Front

Trains Used to Haul Lumber
Now They Haul Tourists

Our Fully Equipped Cabin in Cass
Enjoying the Swing



So Carol and I rode the distance to motorcycle heaven; to the town of Cass, WV. It is a very small town located in the middle of a National Forest, the Monongahela State Forest. Cass, a town now forgotten, was a busy Wood Cutting town starting around 1900. The town was owned, run and managed by a lumber company. The expression, the song: ‘I owe my soul to the Company Store’ could have come from here. The company gave you everything, food, clothing, health care, schooling, etc. but all for a charge, an extra charge in many cases. You earned your money by cutting, or sawing trees and then the company would take that same money (and sometimes more) for all the things you needed to live. You would never get out of the rut you were in. Work and earn and then spend the money, giving it back to the same people that just paid you. Phew, am I glad I did not live at that time, in that spot on earth. 
Cass Lumber Museum - That Is Some Saw!
A Shortcut Through the Woods
From Our Cabin to the Restaurant

Today, this town of Cass has a railroad one can ride in the summer months. One can ride a slow train through the mountains, into the woods to appreciate ‘nature’.  There is a Company restaurant (basic food only). And a Company Store still sells stuff. Cass is very 
touristy, in fact the only industry around Cass today is the rental of the old Company houses, the old Company store, the old Company Restaurant. You can visit a museum and the old Company train and tracks. Nothing is going on in Cass. It is probably busier in the summer when the train is in service. Even the roads leading to Cass, if you follow the GPS, lead you to very narrow, twisty, forgotten lanes; a haven for motorcycles. Just be careful when you ride here, there is nobody around to help should you have a problem and…… there is no cell phone service.  Surprise!
The Green Bank Museum and Start of Facility Tours

You see, Cass is in the middle of the National Radio Quiet Zone, an area the size of Connecticut and Massachusetts combined. Ever heard about this? No cell phones? No non-shielded micro wave ovens? No electronic devices that could cause radio frequency interference? All these 'no' items happen because there is a GBT. That is the Green Bank Telescope, a radio telescope that listens to noises in outer space. It is a Federal offense to make noise that interferes with this listening device. Yes, on 2 occasions folks who would not adhere to the quiet request have been charged.

Model of the Green Bank Telescope Showing That It
Rotates As Well As Tilts

The GBT is the biggest, articulating radio telescope device in the world. There are two larger radio telescopes on earth (the largest in the world at 500 meters across is in China) but they do not move. This West Virginia GBT can be positioned remotely, running on tracks so it can adjust itself to whatever it is aimed to look at. And that is the spot, this GBT, I visited when the rest of the club rode around the ‘nature’ of WV.

Carol and I, and some others, took the morning tour through the installation of the GBT. I felt like a school child to get this tour. I read some info on the telescopes, a total of 7, that are on
The Green Bank Telescope - Very Impressive
300 Meter Diameter

the premises and even visited the informative museum. If ever you are near this place, Green Bank, WV, go and see the Radio Telescope. When I read the word ‘telescope’ I think of a long tube with lenses inside that makes it possible to see far, kind of super eyes.  Well, no, not here. The GBT is a big super ear, a receiver for waves and sounds of all kinds. Light or sound waves are captured, analyzed and interpreted. Those radio telescopes scan the skies to ‘listen’ in to the Universe 24 hours a day. The GBT is sensitive enough to detect an energy less than a snowflake gives off when it hits the ground. Scientists spend hours upon hours mapping out galaxies. NASA even hires them to find lost probes and yes, those guys found a lost space probe after looking for it for 8 years.  
A Much Older Telescope, No Longer Used

The GBT is a rare and ‘out of this world’ experience for most people. Concepts of radiation, of light sources or planets, of stars, of very small and minuscule variations of sounds and/or lights are followed. What is it like out there in the great unknown? What is the Universe like? Is there only one Universe? Has there truly been a 'big bang'? Many questions arise, but also many new, useful discoveries are made. The GBT is our ear to the wall, listening to what is being said to us from far away and through some invisible walls we cannot see through.
Having Fun With Mirrors In the Museum

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has financially supported this facility but for a year now, the NSF has been reducing their contribution and will further reduce it in the coming year. The GBT manages, somehow, to stay afloat through donations and through leasing out their installations to paying customers. The Russians are a customer of the GBT. A few years ago the Russians sent a probe into space that sends back info on a continuous basis. When the Russian Telescopes are faced away from this probe, they hired the GBT to download the probe’s signal and relay it to them. It’s a good business for the GBT. They can even use some of the older Radio Telescopes to just download the info from space and relay it to Russia. It pays 2 million U.S. $ a year. That money is sorely needed at the GBT today as their annual budget is $12 million.
Our Images In Infrared (Detects Hot Zones)

The Museum was a hoot. It’s a hands-on setup and you can spin a dying ‘star’ to hear its pulse. Those pulsars were one of the latest discoveries, I think it was in the 1970’s that it set the scientific world on fire with that discovery.  The internet, nothing more than radio or light waves, depending how it is sent, is still tweaked to find a better way to work with it. The possibilities are endless, the list of applications that could or might be feasible are at the center of the ongoing research. Already some of the technology has been used in health care diagnostics. An MRI is the result of the research that was done with a radio telescope. 
The GBT is a wonderful place, albeit it is
It Would Be Awesome to Solve This Equation

quiet in Green Bank, WV. Not even gasoline driven cars are allowed near the actual telescope installations. The bus we used to get close to the actual dish was a diesel bus, somehow the coils inside our bus did not interfere (on an electronic basis) with the listening stations. 

Years ago, scientists had to actually live at the GBT site but today, with the internet, you can be any place on earth to operate the gigantic dish, larger than a few football fields, or receive and analyze data wherever you are. I felt a little like living or visiting an alien installation. The GBT is the cutting edge of research, a window, no an ear, into space, a world far away but yet, a world that affects us daily. We found out we would not be on Earth were it not for all those stars that sent us complex molecules. We have a lot to learn yet and visiting the GBT is a great eye (ear) opener. 
Would Love to Know the Answer to This Riddle
So, while the other folks in our group rode the great twisty roads, Carol and I just rode 10 minutes away from Cass and spent a morning getting nerdy. 

Years ago, in the 80’s, I participated in SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). I gave my computer on loan (on off times, when I did not need the computer) to the Berkley Group in California to search for Alien Life. All this was (is) done via the internet. The possibility that there is life in the universe is actually very high. There is a formula that makes logical sense.  So part of the GBT is also listening for Alien civilizations. Multitasking is a great way for a radio telescope to stay active.

We had a great time, if you can, go and visit, too. And if you are on a bike, have fun riding the curvy roads.  


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