Tuesday, 5 February 2013

New Zealand recognised as major contributor to radio astronomy history

John Bolton (left) and New Zealander Gordan Stanley (centre), pictured with Jow Pawsey
New Zealand has claimed its place in radio astronomy history. As reported here a year ago, New Zealand has significant scientific heritage in the field of radio astronomy, and has begun to explore and celebrate this history.

Last week, some of the biggest names in the field gathered for an international conference which marked New Zealand's role in helping to kick-start radio astronomy research in the 1940s.  Attended by the doyenne of the field, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, and researchers and historians from New Zealand, Australia and the UK, the conference explored the work of John Bolton and New Zealander, Gordon Stanley, who detected radio waves from outside the solar system in August 1948 from sites in Pakiri and Piha in the North Island of New Zealand.


Elizabeth Alexander
The conference also commemorated the pioneering work of Elizabeth Alexander, often referred to as the first female radio astronomer, who helped helped establish some of the early foundations of solar radio astronomy in 1946. Alexander studied sources of interference effecting radar stations in New Zealand established during World War II.  During March-April 1945, solar radio emission was detected at 200 MHz by operators of a Royal New Zealand Air Force radar unit located on Norfolk Island.
The emissions became known as the "Norfolk Island effect". Alexander, then based at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in Wellington, heading up the Operational Research Section of the Radio Development Laboratory, carried out the most significant early work on the effect throughout 1945. In 1946. she published a paper in the journal, Radio & Electronics describing the emissions, and in doing so, furthered the fledgling field of radio astronomy.

Wayne Orchiston, writing in "The New Astronomy", has noted that Alexander's research also led to further solar radio astronomy projects in New Zealand in the immediate post-war year, and in part was responsible for the launch of the radio astronomy program at the CSIRO, in Australia."

Radar Station (Whangaroa) - one of five involved in New Zealand's investigation of solar radio emission. Image courtesy of Wayne Orchiston.
Astronomer Miller Goss, from the National Astronomy Observatory in New Mexico, puts it:
"Bolton and Stanley's discovery revolutionised twentieth century astronomy."

Following their pioneering discoveries, Bolton went on to become a major figure in Australian radio astronomy, helping found the famous Parkes radio telescope, becoming director of the Australian National Radio Astronomy Observatory and winning the the inaugural Jansky Prize in 1966 (so named after the father of radio astronomy, Karl Jansky).

Sergei Gulyaev
 The conference was organised by the extraordinary Sergei Gulyaev, who has revitalised radio astronomy in New Zealand, spearheading the nation's participation in the SKA, amongst many other efforts.

1 comment:

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