Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022


If it is formed through the efforts of more than 10 thousand people James Webb Space Telescope No indication, the age of the independent scientist is good and really more. Newton, Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus all fundamentally changed humanity’s understanding of our position in the universe and did so on their own, but with the formalization and professionalization of the field in the Victorian era, these phenomena of a fancy astronomer using the Hombru tool are all the more rare.

In his new book, Invisible World: Why there is more to life than meets the eye, Matthew Bothwell, a public astronomer at the University of Cambridge, tells the story of how we discovered a complete, previously unseen universe beyond the natural reach of humanity. Below, Bothwell describes the exploitation of the Grot Reber, one of the world’s first (and for a time, only) radio astronomers.

OneWorld Publishing

Quoted with permission From the Invisible Universe by Matthew Bothwell (One world 2021).


The only radio astronomer in the world

It is a little strange to look back at how the world of astronomy reacted The result of Janski. In retrospect, we see that astronomy is about to be overturned by a revolution similar to the one started by Galileo’s telescope. The detection of radio waves from space marks the first time in history that humanity has hinted at a vast invisible universe hidden outside the narrow windows of the visible spectrum. This was an important occasion that was overlooked in the circles of academic astronomy for a very common reason: the world of radio engineering was far removed from the world of astronomy. When Jansky published his preliminary results, he tried to bridge the gap, spending half the paper giving his readers a crash-course in astronomy (explaining how to measure the position of objects in the sky and exactly why a signal is repeated every twenty-three hours. And fifty-six minutes). Meaning something interesting). But, in the end, the two disciplines failed to communicate. Engineers spoke a language of vacuum tubes, amplifiers and antenna voltages: they, galaxies and planets are incomprehensible to scientists. As Princeton astronomer Melvin Skelet later said:

The astronomers said, ‘Yes, that’s funny – you mean, like, radio stuff coming from them?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s what it looks like’. ‘Very interesting.’ And that’s all they had to say about it. Whatever they had to believe from Bell Labs, but they saw no reason to use it or investigate further. They were so far from the way they thought about astronomy that there was no real interest.

After moving on to other problems, Janski was the only one who was interested in listening to radio waves from space. For almost a decade, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s, Grote Reber was the only radio astronomer in the world.

Big Reb The story is unique to all science of the twentieth century. He single-handedly created a whole field of science, undertook the task of making tools, conducted observations, and explored the theory behind his discoveries. What makes him unique is that he did all this as a complete amateur, working alone outside of a scientific institution. His work, designing electrical equipment for radio broadcasting, gave him the ability to build his own telescope. His fascination with scientific literature led him to discover Janski’s cosmic static discoveries, and when it became clear that no one else on earth cared too much, he undertook the task of discovering the field of radio astronomy. He built his telescope using tools and equipment available to anyone in his backyard in Chicago. His telescope, about ten meters across, was the talk of his surroundings (for good reason – it looks a lot like a cartoon Doomsday device). Her mother used it to dry her wash.

He has spent years scanning the sky with his home-made machine. He observed with his telescope all night, every night while still working his day (apparently he would get a few hours of sleep in the evening after work and again in the morning after finishing work on the telescope). When he realized that he did not know enough physics and astronomy to understand what he was seeing, he took a course at a local university. Over the years, his observations have drawn a beautiful picture of the sky with the help of radio eyes. He identified our Milky Way sweep, with bright spots at the center of the galaxy (where Jansky picked up his star-static), and again towards the constellations Cygnus and Cassiopeia. During this time he also learned enough physics to make scientific contributions. He knew that if the hiss from the Milky Way was due to heat emissions – heat radiation from stars or hot gas – it would be stronger at shorter wavelengths. While Reber was picking a much shorter wavelength from Janski (60 cm, compared to Janski’s fifteen-meter wave), Reber should have been bombarded with invisible radio waves that were several thousand times more powerful than what Janski saw. But he was not. Reber was confident enough in his equipment that what these radio waves were producing must be ‘non-thermal’ – that is, something different from the standard ‘Hot Things Glow’ radiation that we discussed in Chapter 2. He even proposed the (correct!) Solution: that heated interstellar electrons would sling around an ion – a positively charged atom – at a tight angle like a Formula 1 car. The cornering electron would emit a radio wave, and the combined effect of these billions of events Reber was detecting from his back garden. It only occurs in hot gas clouds. Rebar was, as it turns out, a newborn scattered across our galaxy picking up radio waves emitted by the starry clouds. He was literally listening to the birth of stars. It’s a word no one has ever heard before. To this day, radio observations are used to detect the formation of stars in our own Milky Way from small clouds to the birth of galaxies in the farthest corners of the universe.

In many ways, Reber’s story feels like an anchronism. The golden age of independent scientists, who could make groundbreaking discoveries by working with home-made equipment alone, was hundreds of years ago. With the Victorian era, science became a complex, expensive, and above all professional business. Grote Reber, as far as I know, ends up among amateur ‘foreign’ scientists; The last man who had no scientific training made his own tools in his garden and was able to change the scientific world through hard work and fine work.

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