jrasc june 1998 final - The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

rasc.ca

jrasc june 1998 final - The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Feature ArticlesArticles de FondThe Beginning of the DominionRadio Astrophysical Observatoryby Jack Locke, Honorary President, RASC(This article first appeared in Cassiopeia #96. It is publishedhere with the permission of the editor.)The suggestion to build a radioobservatory in British Columbiaarose in 1956 in, of all places, Ottawa.It was a time when scientists in manycountries were finally awakening to therole that radio observations could play inanswering important questions about theuniverse. It seems incredible to us nowthat this awakening should have taken solong. Karl Jansky had made the initialdiscovery more than 20 years earlier, buthis work had been largely ignored by theastronomers of the day. There was onlyone person who did not ignore the discovery.That person was Grote Reber, who was,until the end of World War Two, the onlyradio astronomer in the world.Unlike Jansky’s, Reber’s observationswere not ignored, and when scientistsreturned to peacetime endeavours afterthe war, many turned to radio astronomy. In Canada, ArthurCovington began a lifelong study of the radio emission fromthe Sun. In other countries, notably England, Australia andThe Netherlands, groups of scientists were making startlingdiscoveries of sources of radio emission outside the solar system.The discoveries were so exciting that scientists in many countriesrealized that they could not afford to neglect this new tool withwhich to explore the universe.At the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa, we too wereaware of the rapid advances being made in radio astronomy.In April 1956, Dr. C. S. Beals, the Dominion Astronomer, wroteto his superiors in the Department of Mines and TechnicalSurveys strongly recommending that the Observatories Branchbe allowed to enter the new science of radio astronomy. Thesuggestion was so well received that the preparation of a concreteproposal was begun immediately. The submission, calling forthe establishment of a radio observatory in British Columbia,was submitted to the Minister before the end of the summerInstallation of the 26-metre dish in October, 1959. (all photos are by the author)and was approved by Treasury Board at the end of November— a mere seven months after the first tentative suggestion hadbeen made. Those of you who have been involved recently inputting forward proposals for new facilities for astronomy inCanada will appreciate that seven months from conception toapproval is, by today’s standards, an incredibly short time.Although it was always intended that the observatory shouldundertake research in many areas, the case for the observatorywas based on the opportunity it would provide to extend intothe radio region the studies of our own Galaxy for which theastronomers at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory inVictoria were well known. Since its discovery in 1951 it hadbeen demonstrated that observations of the 21-cm line ofhydrogen could provide important information about thestructure and dynamics of our Milky Way system not possiblefrom optical observations. It was a wise decision, for the proposalwas seen by the authorities as a proposal to build on existingstrengths.112JRASC June/juin 1998

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines