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13th of December 2023
ATNF Colloquium
History of Radio Astronomy: celebrating 90 years of innovation and discovery
Ron Ekers (CSIRO)
Abstract: It was 90 years ago when Karl Jansky announced his discovery of radio noise from the Milky Way Galaxy at the April 1933 meeting of URSI in Washington and Radio Astronomy was born. I was asked to give a General Lecture on the entire history of radio astronomy at the URSI General Assembly in Sapporo, Japan on 23 Aug 2023. I will give a slightly abbreviated version of this lecture as a S&A colloquium.

Instead of just presenting a historical review of all the discoveries I will explore some of the circumstances leading up to the discoveries, including some stories not generally known, but which provide the background and context. These details are often excised from the standard scientific narrative but are essential to understand the roles played by serendipity, prediction, and technology. There is “nothing fortuitous” in so-called serendipitous discoveries. As Pasteur famously quoted “In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.”

While many discoveries are serendipitous, they depend on the development of new technology. So, it is the telescopes, the instruments connected to the telescopes, and the data analysis that leads to most new discoveries. The scientific discoveries for which facilities become famous are rarely those predicted from the science goals for which the telescopes were built. Building the next generation of radio telescopes to continue our 90 years of innovation and discovery will set new challenges.

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