Grote Reber and Radio Astronomy

Reber Radio Telescope in Wheaton, Illinois, 1937

Reber Radio Telescope in Wheaton, Illinois, 1937

On December 22, 1911American pioneer of radio astronomy Grote Reber was born. He combined his interests in amateur radio and amateur astronomy and became instrumental in investigating and extending Karl Jansky’s pioneering work, who in August 1931 first discovered radio waves emanating from the Milky Way. Reber conducted the first sky survey in the radio frequencies and is considered one of the founding figures of radio astronomy.

Grote Reber graduated from Armour Institute of Technology (now Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1933. As an electrical engineer, Reber was an amateur radio operator, and worked for various radio manufacturers in Chicago from 1933 to 1947.

In 1937, Reber decided to build his own radio telescope in his back yard in Wheaton, a suburb of Chicago. His radio telescope consisted of a parabolic sheet metal dish 9 meters in diameter, focusing to a radio receiver 8 meters above the dish. The device was mounted on a tilting stand, allowing it to be pointed in various directions, though not turned.

Unfortunately, Reber’s first two receiverd failed to detect any signals from outer space, operating at 3300 MHz and (the second) at 900 MHz. His third, at 160 MHz was successfully tested in 1938. Two years later, Grote Reber made his first professional publication, in the Astrophysical Journal. Reber began to create a radiofrequency sky map, which he completed in 1941 and later extended it. Reber’s data published as contour maps showing the brightness of the sky in radio wavelengths, revealed the existence of radio sources such as Cygnus A and Cassiopeia A for the first time.

In the early 1950sReber received support from the Research Corporation in New York, and moved to HawaiiReber turned to the field of medium frequency (hectometre) radio signals in the 0.5—3 MHz range, around the AM broadcast bands. In 1954Reber moved to Tasmania, the southernmost state of Australia, where he worked with Bill Ellis at the University of Tasmania.

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