Nightly News   |  May 15, 2013

Silence! Scientists are listening to the universe

The area surrounding the Green Bank Radio Telescope may be the quietest place in America, banning cell phones, Wi-Fi, and other transmitters. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> to take you to a place that's proudly in the middle of nowhere . it's how they like it. you can see it on google earth . they have turned their quietly magnificent valley into a plus. it's the perfect place to listen in to outer space . that means they need everyone to stay quiet while folks do their work. nbc's kevin tibbles has our report tonight from green bank , west virginia .

>> reporter: shh. listening to the heavens requires silence. in today's noisy world tiny green bank , west virginia , is the perfect spot for the national radio astronomy observato observatory. is this the quietest place in america?

>> i would venture to say that yes, it is.

>> reporter: the green bank radio telescope or gbt is the largest in the world. here's what's going on in space. big enough to house a football stadium in the palm of its hand.

>> we have been able to peer back with the gbt to just after the big bang .

>> reporter: to listen deep into the seemingly infinite reaches of our universe you need a very big ear and a very quiet place. just don't look down while you're doing it. they take quiet so seriously it's the law. no cell phones , wifi, or other transmitters for miles around.

>> there's something.

>> reporter: there is even a radio policeman patrolling for interference coming from something as simple as an electric blanket . chuck politely asks folks to knock it off.

>> we have to live with these people.

>> reporter: extraneous noise means karen o 'neil might miss the next big bang .

>> it's a one-time deal. if somebody was running around with a cell phone or nintendo we might have lost the opportunity.

>> reporter: at the general store bob and son donny say they don't miss cell phones .

>> my wife uses hers occasionally once we get out of here.

>> reporter: you?

>> no.

>> reporter: there is one lonely pay phone in town for visitors to make calls. still, people understand the serious work being done by their giant neighbor across town.

>> you start thinking about how do new stars get there? why are they there? where did they come from? that leads you to where did i come from?

>> reporter: should they ever find the answers to the mysteries of the universe, well, that would be something to shout about. kevin tibbles, nbc news, green bank , west virginia .