Grote Reber, the First Radio Astronomer
Grote Reber (1911-2002) was the first radio astronomer and the first
astronomer to construct a high-altitude observatory in Hawaii. On May 15,
in a memorial ceremony at IfA Manoa, the executor of Reber's estate presented
some of Reber's ashes and a plaque to IfA Director Rolf Kudritzki. On May
16, they were placed in the roof of the Air Glow Building, part of which
was Reber's original control room on Haleakala.
Reber received his degree in electrical engineering in 1933, about the
same time that Karl Jansky discovered extraterrestrial radio signals that
seemed to originate outside the solar system. Since Jansky did not follow
up on this discovery—his employers were not interested in these faint
signals—Reber decided to do so.
Reber was a fiercely independent man who wanted to do the kind of work
the establishment was not interested in. About exploring radio signals
from space, Reber said, "The astronomers were afraid of it because
they didn't know anything about radio. The radio people weren't interested
because it was so faint it didn't even constitute an interference. So,
nobody was going to do anything. So, alright, if nobody was going to do
anything, maybe I should do something. So I consulted with myself and decided
to build a dish!"
|In May, astronomers Jeffrey Kuhn and J.D. Armstrong assisted with placing Grote Reber's
ashes on Haleakala.
Reber constructed a dish in his backyard in Wheaton, Illinois (near Chicago).
In 1938, Reber detected radio emission coming from the Milky Way, confirming
Jansky's discovery. Radio astronomy was such a new field that when Reber
sent his paper, "Cosmic Static," to the Astrophysical Journal
(ApJ), that distinguished astronomy journal didn't know what to do with
it. It was only after it had been published in an engineering journal that
the ApJ published it in 1940.
In 1947, Reber accepted a position with the National Bureau of Standards
in Washington, D.C., but by 1951, he had become frustrated by the lack
of support for building a large radio telescope. Interested in the sea
interferometer technique being used by Australian radio astronomers, he
went to Hawaii to work independently. From 1951 to 1954, he worked on building
a rotating antenna on Haleakala. His observations were hampered by ionospheric
refraction (bending) and terrestrial interference, so he obtained useful
data for only a few strong radio sources. But ever curious about all kinds
of natural phenomenon, while on Maui, he published papers on the ionosphere,
the atmosphere, and the age of the lava flows on Haleakala.
In 1954, he moved from Hawaii to Tasmania, Australia, primarily because
he expected the ionospheric transparency associated with the south magnetic
pole would provide observing opportunities not available elsewhere. He
concentrated on long wavelengths, and designed and built several arrays
to study the emission and absorption of radio signals in our galaxy.