March 1953 Radio-Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Electronics,
published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Hugo Gernsback wrote this editorial about the state of the art of radio astronomy in a 1953 issue of his Radio-Electronics magazine. He cites Dr. Jansky's discovery of radio frequency signals emanating from the center of our Milky Way galaxy, and the subsequent work done by radio astronomers in the interim. Little did Gernsback know that a mere decade later later, Bell Telephone Labs engineers Dr. Wilson and Dr. Penzias would serendipitously discover, using the company's "sugar-scoop" antenna, the ubiquitous cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) believed to be a signature of the "Big Bang" era. He predicted that, as is true for most realms of theoretical research, much collateral technology would be created as a result. Ultra low noise, cryogenically cooled receivers are an obvious example.
Mr. Gernsback, a renowned prognosticator and futurist, predicted in this article back in 1953 that the earth's population in the year 2023 would likely be 4−3/4 billion humans. According to the World-o-Meters website counter, the population on this day is 7.714576923 (7−5/7) billion. It predicts the 2023 population to be 8.032487475 (8−3/92) billion. That's nearly twice his prediction, and likely due to a reduction in decimating wars and improved medicine, personal hygiene, communications, and transportation.
... Newest and Fastest-Growing Science ...By Hugo Gernsback
Radio Astronomy, a comparatively new branch of radio electronics, dates back only to about 1931. At that time Dr. Karl G. Jansky, of the Bell Telephone Laboratories of New York, discovered that unusual and previously unobserved radio signals, emanating from the direction of the Milky Way, were received on Earth.
Astronomers and physicists alike paid little attention to the new discovery. But a radio amateur, Grote Reber, before World War II, set up a rotating 30-foot antenna in his back yard. This antenna, bowl-shaped like a searchlight, could be pointed into any direction in the sky, like a telescope.
Reber, like Dr. Jansky, found that the strongest signals originated somewhere in a plane near the center of our galaxy. He soon noted that the signals did not seem to come from the biggest or brightest stars.
Reber at the time theorized that the radio signals really did not come from the stars themselves, but that they originated in the huge hydrogen gas clouds which we know exist in interstellar space.
With better modern instrumentation that was not available in 1931, a great deal of progress has been made toward solving many unsolved riddles of the cosmos. Today we know that most stars - including our own sun - give out radio energy at various frequencies.* In the near future we are certain to learn a great deal more about the mysterious behavior of matter. Man once more realizes that even one of his greatest achievements, radio, is old (and ancient) hat! Radio waves, it now appears, have existed for at least five billion years - perhaps longer.
This, then, explains the sudden and feverish international activity in radio astronomy. Nearly all the major countries are in the race .. Much of the work unquestionably is going on in secret, much of it behind the Iron Curtain.
Large radio telescopes are now installed at the National Bureau of Standards, Naval Research Laboratory, Harvard Observatory (under construction), and Cornell University (Sacramento Peak, N. M.), in the United States; in England at Manchester, University and Cambridge University; in France, at the École Normale Supérieure (Laboratoire de Physique); in Holland at Leyden University; and in Australia at the Radio Physics Laboratory.
How important the subject is can best be expressed by the generous funds that are being poured into the various installations. Thus, Great Britain will be spending over one million dollars on the world's largest and most modern radio telescope at Manchester University. Its huge parabolic lattice-bowl antenna measures 250 feet in diameter. It swings in a cradle between metal-lattice towers which are 180 feet high. The whole assembly is mounted on a metal platform which runs on a circular railroad track. Thus the telescope antenna can be pointed toward any region in the sky. Clockwork then guides the telescope and will keep it on any selected point in the heavens.
Why all this great and feverish activity on such a seeming highly scientific and improbable endeavor? Why, on top of spending millions on radio telescopes, do all the above-mentioned countries add extensive - and expensive - faculty centers of radio astronomy to their present seats of learning?
The answer is not difficult to find. Radio astronomy is in an exactly parallel position today to that which existed in atomic science in the twenty years before 1945, the date of the first atomic explosion.
Many scientists realize that reception on Earth of inter-stellar radio signals, which have taken from one hundred to one billion years to reach us, poses important problems concerning their origin. At present there is some indication that a solution of such problems may be of vast scientific importance, contributing to the understanding of many fields of science - even the atom. This may in time open the road to entirely new sources of energy - Power.
Scientists, too, suspect that there may be an important connection between cosmic rays and radio energy - both may turn out to be closely related .
What does man stand to gain by the understanding of the origin of radio waves from interstellar space? No one can tell. We do not immediately expect to gain from it vast amounts of power - this lies in the future. We are. however, certain that the knowledge of cosmic radio manifestations is as fundamental to the future of science as was Maxwell's electromagnetic theory to the development of our present radio communication.
By 2023, the present population of the Earth (1949 - 2,367,737,000) will have doubled to 4 3/4, billion humans. To feed and clothe them, man will require more and still cheaper power. Only by understanding Nature's still unknown immense energy sources can we hope to achieve prosperity for all mankind and consequently a real planet-wide Peace.
*See also the writer's editorial "Our Electronic Universe", October 1952, Radio-Electronics.
Posted March 6, 2019