Radio astronomers at Sydney University for the 1952 URSI General Assembly. Left to right, ground level: W. N. Christiansen, F. G. Smith (England), J. P. Wild, B. Y. Mills, J.-L. Steinberg (France), S. F. Smerd, C. A. Shain, R. Hanbury Brown (England), R. Payne-Scott, A. G. Little, M. Laffineur (France), O. B. Slee, J. G. Bolton. First step: C. S. Higgins, J. P. Hagen (USA), J. V. Hindman, H. I. Ewen (USA), F. J. Kerr, C. A. Muller (Netherlands). Second step: J. H. Piddington, E. R. Hill, L. W. Davies.
[blurb for the book] Providing a definitive history of the formative years of radio astronomy, Cosmic Noise is invaluable for historians of science, scientists and engineers. The whole of worldwide radio and radar astronomy is covered, beginning with the discoveries by Jansky and Reber of cosmic noise before World War II, though the wartime detections of solar noise, the discovery of radio stars, lunar and meteor radar experiments, and the detection of the 21 cm hydrogen spectral line, to the discoveries of the groups led by Hey, Ryle, Lovell and Pawsey in the decade following the war, revealing an entirely different sky from that of visual astronomy.
Based on exhaustive archival research and over one hundred interviews with pioneering radio astronomers, Cosmic Noise traces the intellectual, technical, and social aspects of this wholly new type of astronomy. Special attention is paid to military and national influences. The book also features abundant photographs and fascinating quotes drawn from the interviews.
Download here the book's annotated Table of Contents.
|I had the opportunity only yesterday of watching Sagittarius rise in broad daylight on the needle of a millivoltmeter....It is certainly gratifying to see gunlaying radar apparatus put to such uses!
- Alan Hunter (Royal Greenwich Observatory) (1946)
Freshly minted as a Ph.D. in astronomy, I began my history of radio astronomy project in 1971 with the observation that almost all of the pioneers of radio astronomy, including my advisor (Frank Kerr), were still available as sources for a book on the worldwide history of radio astronomy. World War II, during which radio astronomy and I were both born, had ended only a quarter-century before and memories were relatively fresh. Armed with a cassette tape-recorder, I began interviewing "old-timers." Guided by Urania and Clio over the decades, I gathered data from around the world as I could, mostly during 1972-88. The bulk of the initial writing took place in 1984-89, but then the mostly-finished book stalled as other projects intervened. Scattered efforts were sometimes possible, but in the end it took a sabbatical year in 2006 to resurrect the book and finally bring it to completion. The 24-year span of writing triples the 1945-53 period that the book mainly covers! As another measure of the time that passed, 60% of the interviewees whose materials have been used for the book have now passed away. In all, it took no less than 38 years to bring this project to completion.
Here's a new book being launched in November 2009, a biography of Ruby Payne-Scott, the Australian woman who held her own with the best of the men in the world-class Radiophysics Division in Sydney (she can be seen in the group shot above). Her career, however, ended abruptly in 1951 when she became pregnant - in fact she had even kept her marriage secret because this was forbidden for female scientific staff.
Over the years Miller Goss, former director of the NRAO's Very Large Array, has researched this case, in the process becoming good friends with Payne-Scott's son and daughter. In this book he, together with Dick McGee, a Sydney colleague who knew her well, has covered all aspects of her life, not just her important contributions to solar radio astronomy and instrumentation in the period 1944-51. For example, she was also a Communist in the McCarthy era and then a longtime high school teacher.
Click here for Goss’s Wikipedia entry on Payne-Scott. Under the Radar: The First Woman in Radio Astronomy, Ruby Payne-Scott
- W. M. Goss & R. X. McGee (2010) xxi + 354 pp., 118 illus., hardcover
Publisher's blurb: This is the biography of Ruby Payne-Scott (1912-1981). As the first female radio astronomer (and one of the first people in the world to consider radio astronomy), she made classic contributions to solar radio physics. She also played a major role in the design of the Australian government's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research radars, which were in turn of vital importance in the Southwest Pacific Theatre in World War II and were used by Australian, US and New Zealand personnel. From a sociological perspective, her career also offers many examples of the perils of being a female academic in the first half of the 20th century. Written in an engaging style and complemented by many historical photographs, this book gives a fascinating insight into the beginning of radio astronomy and the role of a pioneering woman in astronomy.
Former National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) Librarian Ellen Bouton (ebouton (at) nrao.edu), aided and abetted by longtime NRAO radio astronomer Ken Kellermann and others, has established a great website, as well as an important and growing archive at NRAO headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. The archive contains the papers of Ronald N. Bracewell, John W. Findlay, David S. Heeschen, John D. Kraus, Grote Reber, and A. Richard Thompson, as well as those of NRAO itself (founded in the mid 1950s). In addition, the website contains:
By the end of 2010 I plan to donate to the NRAO Archives all of my papers and taped interviews (much of them transcribed) relating to the history of early radio astronomy, including a great deal of material that I gathered for the period 1953-63, which is not covered in Cosmic Noise. As one example, I directly used only 115 of my total of 256 taped interviews, and even much of the material contained in those 115 interviews was not used (especially the portions discussing the period beyond 1953).
Dr. Orchiston is a Reader and the History of Astronomy Coordinator at James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. Much of his research over the past fifteen years has been dedicated to the history of radio astronomy, especially in Australia. He has also internationally energized those involved in the history of radio astronomy, in particular through chairing two Working Groups of the International Astronomical Union: on Historic Radio Astronomy and on Historical Instruments (including radio). He is also the editor of the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, which includes many articles on the history of radio astronomy around the world.
Some of Orchiston's publications on the history of radio astronomy can be found here and here; others are listed below.
Orchiston has also written a series of illustrated articles on the development of early Australian radio astronomy in the Newsletter of the Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF):
"Focus on the history of Australian radio astronomy" (Oct. 2001)
"A celebration at Dover Heights" (Oct. 2003)
About the dedication in July 2003 of a replica antenna and plaque honoring the original CSIRO Radiophysics Division field station, which dates back to 1945, and at which were made many fundamental discoveries in radio astronomy (e.g., the existence of discrete sources such as Tau A, Vir A, and Cen A).