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The Town That Banned WiFi 📍
Also Barbie's Geopolitics, World's Largest Telescopes, & Toilet Paper Use By Country (📍Bonkers Borders Series)
Hi! If you’re new here, this is Map Nerd. We explore amazing places and cool things on maps, usually with a video story + quick digestible info. If you enjoy it, subscribe and you can explore with us!
In this issue:
One Question Survey: Help me make this better please!
Maps On News & News On Maps (featuring Barbie’s geopolitics & Toilet paper use by country)
This Issue’s Main Story+Video: The Town That Banned WiFi
Who’s Got The Bandwidth? How The US Government Rations Out Frequencies
FYI the last sections may get cut off in your inbox - click “view entire message.”
⁉️ One Question Survey:
Please help me continually improve Map Nerd by answering this single question: What part of Map Nerd Are You Here For?
Since the poll box doesn’t allow enough text for context, I’ll clarify the last two options:
“I like both, and enjoy it together” means you like the newsletter as it is (one issue with Maps on News bits AND the Main Story bits together).
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🗺️ Maps On News & News On Maps 🗺️
The latest news explained with good maps and the latest good maps that have hit the news. But mostly quick links to fun maps that you can procrastinate with 😊…
Map of Titan Sub’s Debris Field (NYT): RMS Titanic, the company who owns exclusive salvage rights to the Titanic shipwreck site, released a map as part of a recent legal filing that indicates where debris of the Titan Submersible, the manned sub that disappeared in June and is presumed to have imploded, was found. The New York Times published the map this week. Apparently RMS Titanic is required to keep the court informed of its activities as part of its salvage rights agreement…
Barbie Movie Banned In Vietnam Because of a Map: I shared this with an Instagram post & a Thread when it happened, but in case you hadn’t heard: Vietnam banned release of Barbie due to a map that appears behind Margot Robbie in a short scene (see screenshot below).
Here’s the issue: the map shows a dotted line protruding from an area that’s presumably China. Vietnam has interpreted this as a representation of the "Nine-dash Line” which is a highly controversial boundary that outlines a huge swath of the South China Sea that China claims is part of its territory. The Nine-dash Line runs into territorial waters claimed by several other South Asian countries, including Vietnam.
But here’s the thing: the map in question is drawn cartoonishly with nothing staying true to any real shapes or lines (you only know that landmass is Asia because it says “Asia.” In the handwriting of an seven-year-old, to boot). So I’m of the opinion that there was no real intent to show China’s view of the world, and Vietnam has either misinterpreted it or they don’t care because its a good opportunity to make a statement about the dispute (my bets on the latter).
How Many Miles of Toilet Paper Do We Use In a Lifetime?: I saw this posted by the great map nerd Simon Kuestenmacher (@simongerman600 on Threads or Twitter). It’s a promotion by a UK bathroom supply company who appears to have really done their homework: they cite several sources including Tissue World Magazine (obviously I’m subscribing). There’s lots more fun toilet paper infographics on their site too!
How 50 States Drive The Global Economy (Fortune/Apple News): this one’s from a few months ago, but I forgot to add it to the prior posts and it’s a good one:
The Northeast is Losing Out To America’s New Economic Hotspots: Axios released this map showing change in state share of national GDP from 2012 to 2022. While interesting, I’d note that it doesn’t appear to consider GDP per capita or changes in state populations over that same period which makes this missing some context…
Where The US is Spending The Big Infrastructure Bill Dollars: The US Government published a pretty neat map tool that shows all of the projects being funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill passed in 2021. You can check out where your dollars are being put to work… (click here for interactive map).
This Issue’s Story + Video:
⚡️ The Town That Banned WiFi ⚡️
Watch The Video Below!
There’s a US town where WiFi is illegal, so are fitness trackers, baby monitors, and most microwaves.
This is not the Twilight Zone, Its Green Bank, West Virginia, where most radio signals have been banned since 1958.
That includes wi-fi, cell service, Bluetooth, RC Cars, and anything else that creates electromagnetic waves.
Green Bank is the heart of The National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000 square mile box in the Virginias and a teeny bit of Maryland, where anything wireless is restricted by law.
That’s because there’s two things here that are too important to get messed up by your Bluetooth headset.
The first is The Green Bank Telescope. It’s the largest steerable telescope in the world. Scientists use it to listen to far off galaxies, but in order to do that, it’s got to be super quiet.
Reporters like to say you can’t have a cell phone in the whole box, but that’s not true. Most of the NRQZ just has stricter rules, phones and wi-fi are limited to low frequencies.
But once you get within 10 miles of Green Bank, most radiowaves are not allowed. Within 1 mile, you can’t even run a gas engine bc spark plugs give off waves. 150 people live in Green Bank and some move there because of it.
I almost forgot the other reason for the NRQZ… It’s called Sugar Grove Station, and according to the NY Times, its used by the NSA to intercept communications for the Eastern US.
At this point, they’re probably listening so I’ll end it there.
🔭 The Largest Telescopes In The World 🔭
The Green Bank Telescope is the largest steerable radio telescope in the world. It is 100 meters in diameter (~330 feet, bigger than a football field), smooth to the width of 5 human hairs, and strong enough to “see” a quarter from 3 miles away.
If you don’t need a steerable telescope, there are other, larger, options available. It appears they’ll continue to keep getting larger in the foreseeable future: there are several plans to build absolutely massive telescopes to probe deeper into the unknown (or listen closer to home?). Here’s the current list of the world’s largest radio telescopes*, and where they are, to satisfy your curiosity:
(*Note: I’ve narrowed the list to radio telescopes only. In my research I found an awful lot of categories of telescope types, and a different top list depending on what kind of definition was used. Therefore, I’m going with ‘radio telescopes.’ Please do not ask me to explain how any of this works beyond providing impressive stats about how big and cool they are 😉 …)
EHT: Event Horizon Telescope // Size: 12.7 million meters?, ~11 dishes // Location: The World: This world’s “largest” needs a strong asterisk. The EHT is a coordinated effort that combines telescopes around the world. When all of the telescopes are honed in to the same thing, they have the power to observe objects in space that nothing else can see. Most notably, EHT published the first image of a black hole in 2019.
VLA: Very Large Array // Size: 36,000 meters, 27 dishes // Location: Socorro, NM, USA: VLA is one of the most well-known and most versatile telescopes in the world. It’s where Jodie Foster hears aliens in Contact, the location of Skynet in Terminator Salvation, and the ‘satellite’ used for the cover of Dave Matthews’ single “Satellite.” It’s not a single dish, but an array of twenty-seven 82-foot-long dishes assembled in a Y-shape. Each leg of the Y-shape is about 13 miles long, and they can actually be moved on tracks to make different configurations. And hot off the presses: it was announced in June 2023 that the VLA will get an upgrade, adding 160 new dishes at a cost of $2 Billion.
ALMA: Atacama Large Millimeter Array // Size: 16,000 meters, 66 dishes // Location: Atacama Desert, Chile: This is an array of 66 dishes situated high up on a plateau in the Atacama Desert (you may remember this desert… it’s also the place where your clothes go to die). The high elevation and low humidity help prevent interference. Apparently it’s the most expensive telescope currently in operation at a cost of $1.4 Billion to construct. I hope they get their money’s worth!
VLBA: Very Long Baseline Array // Size: 8,600 meters, 10 dishes // Location: 10 US sites: VLBA is an array of 10 dishes located very, very far apart. It was built in the late 80’s / early 90’s in sites across the US in order to achieve the longest baseline in very long baseline interferometry (no, I can’t explain what that is. Look it up).
SKA: Square Kilometer Array // Size: 5,000 meters, 192 dishes // Location: Australia & South Africa: The SKA is still under construction in both South Africa and Australia. When complete, it will be the strongest telescope in the world with the largest collecting area (which some might define as “largest,” though it doesn’t cover the biggest area on the ground). It will have a total observation area of 1 square kilometer (1 million meters), be 10,000 times faster than any other radio telescope, and 50 times more sensitive. South Africa will hold the dish array portion while Australia will hold the antenna array portion, and its headquarters will be in the UK. It is expected to start observations next year and be fully complete by the end of the decade
FAST: The Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope // Size: 500 meters, 1 dish // Location: Guizhou, China: FAST is the world’s largest single dish telescope. It’s absolutely massive: 500 meters in diameter (1600 ft) with 4,500 movable panels that can change the parabola. Apparently it’s very good at discovering pulsars. it’s really bad at discovering puls- a through q’s, however 😜.
RATAN-600 // 576 meters, 1 “dish” // Location: Zelenchukskaya, Russia: Russia’s entry in the telescope race is the RATAN-600 (you didn’t think they’d sit out an international battle for biggest, did you?). This is the largest single radio telescope in the world. But it’s not like the others: RATAN-600 is a circle of rectangular reflectors that can be positioned to bounce signals to a central receiver. The interior of the circle is largely empty, as opposed to the other telescopes on this list which feature “closed-aperture” dishes (the center image below provides a nice comparison of the style differences between Arecibo (top), FAST(middle), and RATAN-600 (bottom).
GBT: Green Bank Telescope // Size: 100m, 1 dish // Location: Green Bank, WV, USA: Finally, we get to our subject! As mentioned, the Green Bank Telescope is the largest fully steerable telescope in the world. All the others can barely move; They can only observe areas of the sky near their zenith (top center). GBT, on the other hand, can be rotated around and up & down, so can see much more from one spot, notably including sources close to the horizon.
Effelsberg Radio Telescope // Size 100m, 1 dish // Location: Effelsberg, Germany: The Effelsberg telescope was the world’s largest fully steerable telescope before Green Bank defeated it in 2000. Though both are considered 100-meter diameter dishes, GBT has a “slightly larger elliptical 100 by 110-metre aperture.”
Lovell Telescope // Size: 76.2m, 1 dish // Location: Goostrey, UK: And rounding out our Top 10 List, almost predictably, is the British entry which was the largest in the world when it was completed in 1957. Then it was trumped by Germany (Effelsberg), which was beaten by the US (Green Bank), and later, China (FAST). Sound familiar? 😉
But What About Arecibo?!
Before Jodie Foster heard the aliens at VLA in New Mexico, she was flirting with Matthew McConaughey at the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico. Arecibo was for a long time the most famous radio telescope, owing in part to its awesome setting tucked into the hills (and it’s welcoming availability as a filming location). Unfortunately, if you hadn’t heard (because, unless you’re an astronomer, this news might’ve passed you by), Arecibo collapsed in 2020. The US NSF, which controls the site, determined it was not feasible to repair or reconstruct. Poor Arecibo!
📡 Who’s Got The Bandwidth? 📡
How The US Government Rations Out Radio Frequencies
In my research into telescopes, I stumbled into the world of spectrum management. You may not realize it, but every wireless device you use is limited to a very specific frequency that it can communicate on, including your baby monitor and your kids’ play walkie-talkie. There is a finite spectrum of radio frequencies that exist in the world. Just like there’s a specific spectrum of visible light that humans can see. In fact, visible light and radio are really part of the same spectrum of waves that exist in our world, from supersonic to radio to infra-red to x-ray and beyond (see diagram of spectrum below). We use the radio spectrum for most of our wireless communications, including TV broadcasts, mobile phones, walkie-talkies, GPS, and satellite services.
Since there’s a finite amount of frequencies available, governments take it upon themselves to dole them out, giving specific devices and technologies a set range of frequencies on which they can operate. It’s also coordinated internationally so that the big important stuff across the world doesn’t get interfered with. The chart of the US Frequency Allocations is fascinating to look at, if just to marvel at how complex but pretty it is…
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