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The Drake Equation.

Photographs by Paul Kranzler and Andrew Phelps. Text by Alard von Kittlitz. Design by Isabel Latza.
Fountain Books, Berlin, Germany, 2018. 120 pp., 9¾x11½x¾".

Publisher's Description

When the United States government decided to build a “National Radio Astronomy Observatory” in the 1950’s, it chose the small community of Green Bank in Pocahontas County, West Virginia as its site. Radio telescopes are highly sensitive and disturbed by any form of radio activity such as wifi, radio stations, cell-towers and all forms of electro magnetic energy. A “National Radio Quiet Zone”, free of electromagnetic interference, was established in Pocahontas County specifically because of its sparse population and lack of massive industry. The establishment of the observatory rendered this region into an essentially tech-free zone.

The telescopes draw the top astro-physicists and astronomers from around the world to this remote region of West Virginia where they live side by side with local families which have been in this Appalachian Mountain area for hundreds of years. Often living on land which their ancestors claimed as wilderness frontier in the mid 1700’s, many of these homesteads still practice the traditions of cattle farming, deer and bear hunting and maple syrup harvesting.

Over the past decades as cellphones and wi-fi technology have entered mainstream life in the US, many people are moving into the area exactly for the reason that it is wi-fi free. So called electromagnetic hypersensitives are people suffering allergic reactions to radio frequencies associated with wi-fi and mobile technology. The region, which has officially been defined by the FCC as “radio free”, offers relief to people trying to flee radio and wi-fi signals which are found in any other populated area of the country.

N = R*· F p · Ne · F l · F i · F c · L

The Drake Equation, created in 1961, is an assumption of our chances of finding extraterrestrial life from other star systems. Astro-physics use this equation, and the highly sensitive radio telescopes, to search the edge of the universe looking for signs of life. The equation encapsulate all of the variables relevant to establishing the number of intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy which may be broadcasting radio signals at a particular point in time.

In 2015, photographers Paul Kranzler and Andrew Phelps spent many weeks around the small town of Green Bank to document this unique community of researchers, EHS, and local families. The resulting book, The Drake Equation, shows a natural landscape, riddled with giant telescopes, as well as the people and life in Pocahontas Valley.

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