Head on out to Green Bank, WV, and you're likely to notice what looks like a giant satellite dish on the horizon. Only it's not a satellite dish. It's actually a fully steerable radio telescope – the largest of its kind in the world. It's funded by the federal government through the US National Science Foundation and operated by National Radio Astronomy Observatory. In short, it's one of the most advanced telecommunications devices in the world. So you'd expect them to service it with suitably advanced vehicles, right?

Wrong. Radio telescopes are hyper-sensitive to interference. That's why this one is located (alongside the NSA installation at Sugar Grove) inside the United States National Radio Quiet Zone. It's also why the NRAO only uses old diesel trucks to get anywhere near the telescope. Some of those trucks are 45 years old, but because they don't use spark plugs, computerized ECUs or even door chimes, they don't mess with the telescope. Head on over to Driving.ca to read exactly why.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 1 Year Ago
      And they'll be the only things left running after an EMP blast.
        • 1 Year Ago
        I'm not a huge conspiracy theorist, I just think it would be highly ironic of there were am EMP war and West Virginia became the most technically advanced state.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I've visited there a few years back. Truly a sight to be seen. One of the tour guides told a story of them picking up a local toaster oven with an element that was going bad.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Yes. Boy those iron hulks bring back memories! Haven't been on those telescopes since the mid 90's! The telescopes are so sensitive that there are regular sweeps for bad RF interference in the neighboring town. When I was there, a poor hound dog was sleeping outside on an electric blanket in his doghouse, but there was a short in the blanket which was causing an awful hum on the instruments. The support staff swept through town and told the owners a) please unplug the blanket, and b) your dog is likely freezing anyway.
      Basil Exposition
      • 1 Year Ago
      Awww love those cool old rigs
      • 1 Year Ago
      Diesels without spark plugs-good old american iron.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Just look at the puddles underneath them. I am sure they belch black smoke all the time too. Little ridiculous you think for a radio telescope? How about spend a few dollars, literally, and make the new vehicles not so noisy?
        • 1 Year Ago
        It is probably a LOT cheaper to keep these vehicles running than investing in newer vehicles shielded to prevent interference.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I didn't think that generation of Suburban had a diesel option.
        • 1 Year Ago
        Not to the general public, at least. That was likely restricted to government and military customers. The general public is usually kept in the dark about some of these things.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Interesting that there's an airport less than a 1/2 mile away. Piston aircraft engines have two spark plugs per cylinder, so they probably make a racket. And almost every aircraft has loads of electronics. Looks like the closest you can get to the dish on a public road (without passing through a closed gate) is about .9 mile. Google Earth shows a county dirt road that gets within .6 mile before reaching the fence.
        • 1 Year Ago
        Aircraft electronics and ignition leads are also shielded to the nth degree to prevent them from interfering with each other. It gets a bit silly, especially when the silicone insulation wears off the leads in places & the shielding starts fraying & tears up your hands when you service/replace the leads.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Unfortunately, the whole Green Bank observatory may soon be shut down due to budget cutbacks.
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