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A Single Sky

A Single Sky: How an International Community Forged the Science of Radio Astronomy

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    A Single Sky
    Book Description:

    For more than three thousand years, the science of astronomy depended on visible light. In just the last sixty years, radio technology has fundamentally altered how astronomers see the universe. Combining the wartime innovation of radar and the established standards of traditional optical telescopes, the "radio telescope" offered humanity a new vision of the universe. In A Single Sky, the historian David Munns explains how the idea of the radio telescope emerged from a new scientific community uniting the power of radio with the international aspirations of the discipline of astronomy. The radio astronomers challenged Cold War era rivalries by forging a united scientific community looking at a single sky.Munns tells the interconnecting stories of Australian, British, Dutch, and American radio astronomers, all seeking to learn how to see the universe by means of radio. Jointly, this international array of radio astronomers built a new "community" style of science opposing the "glamour" of nuclear physics. A Single Sky describes a communitarian style of science, a culture of interdisciplinary and international integration and cooperation, and counters the notion that recent science has been driven by competition. Collaboration, or what a prominent radio astronomer called "a blending of radio invention and astronomical insight," produced a science as revolutionary as Galileo's first observations with a telescope. Working together, the community of radio astronomers revealed the structure of the galaxy.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30519-8
    Subjects: Astronomy, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. 1-26)

    In the 1995 filmThe Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain, Hugh Grant portrays Reginald Anson, a floppy-haired youth recently returned from World War I. Working as an assistant with the Royal Ordnance Survey, Anson takes part in measuring the “first mountain in Wales,” known to the locals as Ffynnon Garw. The film, which is based on real events, humorously exposes what is at stake in the history of science: the decision to measure, the process of measuring, and the result of having measured something are only the beginnings of an intricate social process through...

    (pp. 27-50)

    In June of 1945 a powerful radio noise jammed all the receivers at New Zealand’s Norfolk Island radar station. The operators feared a Japanese attack, but the latest receivers and direction finders identified the sun as the direction of the radio noise. Cooperation among the MIT Radiation Laboratory, Britain’s Telecommunications Research Establishment, and Australia’s Radiophysics Laboratory had raised speculation about the sun as a source of radio waves, and several outbursts had been detected during the war years. In Australia, the deputy chief of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Radiophysics Laboratory, Joe Pawsey, had already performed some simple...

  6. 2 NOISE
    (pp. 51-72)

    “We must provide for research in atomic energy,” the retired Chairman of Australia’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Sir George Julius, was quoted as having said by theSydney Morning Heraldin late 1945.¹ After the successful use of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima, independent nuclear programs rapidly sprang up in Britain, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, and, of course, the Soviet Union. At the CSIR’s Radio-physics Laboratory in Sydney, Edward Bowen anticipated an aggressive national effort and offered his entire linear accelerator group to “make an exceedingly strong team [which], given suitable assistance, would probably do all that is required...

    (pp. 73-114)

    As a young radio physicist, Robert Hanbury Brown spent World War II working in drafty airplane hangars and going up and down in planes testing various aspects of airborne radar. After the war, he returned to Britain’s Telecommunications Research Establishment before following the father of British radar, Robert Watson-Watt, to Canada to work for Watson-Watt’s private scientific consulting company. He promptly became an early casualty of the failure of that entrepreneurial endeavor. Unemployed, he returned to Britain and was recommended to Bernard Lovell’s growing group at Jodrell Bank by Patrick Blackett, a professor of physics at Manchester. Lovell remembered Hanbury...

  8. 4 VISIONS
    (pp. 115-150)

    Speaking at a 1955 meeting of the International Astronomical Union, Harlow Shapley, the former director of the Harvard Observatory, declared that astronomy had just experienced its most successful year. “Never in the long history of astronomy,” he said, “has there been more building and planning of astronomical instruments than in 1954 and 1955, and rarely if ever has there been so much cooperation.” Proudly reporting that several new optical telescopes had been built (notably one at the Lick Observatory in California), Shapley also mentioned the “large radio telescopes in England, United States, Holland, Germany, and Australia” and validated the integration...

  9. 5 SIZE
    (pp. 151-170)

    By June of 1956, the plans for the new National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) were all but finalized. After nearly three years of negotiation and review, the National Science Foundation, a consortium of universities represented by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), and interested physicists and astronomers concluded that by 1961 a radio telescope 140 feet in diameter would be built at Green Bank, West Virginia. The centerpiece instrument of a national facility for radio astronomy would eventually, the panel reported, bring outstanding research opportunities to American radio astronomers—opportunities that would rival and perhaps even surpass those offered by the giant...

    (pp. 171-178)

    The Dish, a film featuring the Parkes radio telescope and telling the story of how radio astronomers captured the television images of the moon landing in July of 1969, was a comic hit in Australia in 2000. At first the Parkes telescope was scheduled to be only a backup receiver for the moon mission, but Neil Armstrong’s decision to forgo a scheduled sleep break put the Parkes dish in a favorable position. At the moment Armstrong set foot on the moon, the moon was visible from Australia but not from Houston. In the film, the prime minister, speaking before Parliament,...

    (pp. 179-180)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 181-222)
    (pp. 223-244)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 245-248)