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Scores of radio telescopes gaze at the universe these days. They study the aftermaths of stellar explosions, “jets” of particles from black holes, and many other powerful objects and events. And all of them are following the path laid out by the father of radio astronomy, who was born 100 years ago today in Chicago.
Grote Reber was interested in radio from the start. He built his own receivers, and got a job working for a radio company. In 1932, he read about the discovery of cosmic radio waves, and was instantly hooked. He tried to get a job with established observatories, but no one was interested in studying the radio sky.
So Reber saved his money, and in 1937 he built his own radio telescope in his back yard in Wheaton, Illinois — the first dedicated radio telescope in the world. It was a parabolic dish 31 feet in diameter. He had to do most of his observing at night, because the spark plugs of passing cars produced a radio “static” that interfered with cosmic signals.
With this pioneering instrument, Reber found that the center of the Milky Way galaxy is a strong source of radio waves. And he compiled maps of all the radio sources his antenna could detect.
After World War II, many other astronomers became interested in studying the radio sky. They applied new technology invented for the war to build better telescopes, establishing radio astronomy as a major new field of study — made possible by the backyard telescope of Grote Reber.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011