Sir Martin Ryle and Radio Astronomy

The Very Large Array near Socorro, New Mexico, United States. Image: Wikimedia user Hajor

The Very Large Array near Socorro, New Mexico, United States. Image: Wikimedia user Hajor

On September 27, 1918English radio astronomer and Nobel Laureate Sir Martin Ryle was born. Ryle developed revolutionary radio telescope systems and used them for accurate location and imaging of weak radio sources. He was Astronomer Royal from 1972 to 1982 and shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974 with Antony Hewish, the first Nobel prize awarded in recognition of astronomical research.

Martin Ryle was the son of Professor John Alfred Ryle and Miriam Ryle as well as the nephew of Oxford University Professor of Philosophy Gilbert Ryle. Martin Ryle himself first studied at Bradfield College and later earned his physics degree from Christ Church in the University of Oxford.

In order to work on the design of antennas for airborne radar equipment during World War II, Ryle began working with the Telecommunications Research Establishment. However, Ryle also worked on radio waves from the Sun at Cambridge. He became the driving force in the creation and improvement of astronomical interferometry and aperture synthesis, which paved the way for massive upgrades in the quality of radio astronomical data. In 1946 Ryle built the first multi-element astronomical radio interferometer.

Martin Ryle guided the Cambridge radio astronomy group in the production of several important radio source catalogues. One such catalogue, the Third Cambridge Catalogue of Radio Sources in 1959 helped lead to the discovery of the first quasi-stellar object, a quasar. Ryle served as lecturer in physics at Cambridge for more than a decade, he became director of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in 1957 and professor of radio astronomy in 1959. He further succeeded Sir Richard Woolley as Astronomer Royal from 1972–1982. In 1968, Sir Martin Ryle served as professor of astronomy at Gresham College, London.

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