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War Surplus

December 9, 2016

Before World War II, radio astronomy was more of a hobby than a science. After the war, though, the field blossomed, with radio telescopes popping up around the world. And that was no coincidence. The war provided a lot of experience at operating sophisticated radio gear, and a lot of leftover equipment for astronomers to nab.

The first observations of the radio sky were made in the early 1930s -- not as a scientific endeavor, but in an effort to discover the cause of static in trans-Atlantic phone calls. By 1940, there was only one real “radio astronomer” in the world.

World War II saw an outburst of new and improved technologies. One of those was radar, which uses radio waves to detect airplanes and other objects.

Much of the technology was developed by scientists who were contributing to the war effort, including astronomers. They became skilled at making the equipment, using it, and interpreting its findings. They even did a little science. A British scientist-turned-military officer, for example, discovered radio waves from the Sun.

When the war ended, many of the scientists put their new skills to work as radio astronomers. And the military was getting rid of surplus equipment, so the astronomers could snatch it up for little or no money.

So many post-war radio telescopes consisted of antennas and receivers that had seen service during World War II. They helped turn the field of radio astronomy from a hobby to a science.


Script by Damond Benningfield



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