Radio astronomy

Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies. The first detection of radio waves from an astronomical object was in 1932, when Karl Jansky at Bell Telephone Laboratories observed radiation coming from the Milky Way. Subsequent observations have identified a number of different sources of radio emission. These include stars and galaxies, as well as entirely new classes of objects, such as radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, and masers. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, regarded as evidence for the Big Bang theory, was made through radio astronomy.

Radio astronomy is conducted using large radio antennas referred to as radio telescopes, that are either used singularly, or with multiple linked telescopes utilizing the techniques of radio interferometry and aperture synthesis. The use of interferometry allows radio astronomy to achieve high angular resolution, as the resolving power of an interferometer is set by the distance between its components, rather than the size of its components.


Chart Showing Radio Signal of First Identified Pulsar
Chart on which Jocelyn Bell Burnell first recognised evidence of a pulsar, in 1967 (exhibited at Cambridge University Library)

Before Jansky observed the Milky Way in the 1930s, physicists speculated that radio waves could be observed from astronomical sources. In the 1860s, James Clerk Maxwell's equations had shown that electromagnetic radiation is associated with electricity and magnetism, and could exist at any wavelength. Several attempts were made to detect radio emission from the Sun including an experiment by German astrophysicists Johannes Wilsing and Julius Scheiner in 1896 and a centimeter wave radiation apparatus set up by Oliver Lodge between 1897 and 1900. These attempts were unable to detect any emission due to technical limitations of the instruments. The discovery of the radio reflecting ionosphere in 1902, led physicists to conclude that the layer would bounce any astronomical radio transmission back into space, making them undetectable.[1]

Karl Jansky made the discovery of the first astronomical radio source serendipitously in the early 1930s. As an engineer with Bell Telephone Laboratories, he was investigating static that interfered with short wave transatlantic voice transmissions. Using a large directional antenna, Jansky noticed that his analog pen-and-paper recording system kept recording a repeating signal of unknown origin. Since the signal peaked about every 24 hours, Jansky originally suspected the source of the interference was the Sun crossing the view of his directional antenna. Continued analysis showed that the source was not following the 24-hour daily cycle of the Sun exactly, but instead repeating on a cycle of 23 hours and 56 minutes. Jansky discussed the puzzling phenomena with his friend, astrophysicist and teacher Albert Melvin Skellett, who pointed out that the time between the signal peaks was the exact length of a sidereal day; the time it took for "fixed" astronomical objects, such as a star, to pass in front of the antenna every time the Earth rotated.[2] By comparing his observations with optical astronomical maps, Jansky eventually concluded that the radiation source peaked when his antenna was aimed at the densest part of the Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius.[3] He concluded that since the Sun (and therefore other stars) were not large emitters of radio noise, the strange radio interference may be generated by interstellar gas and dust in the galaxy.[2] (Jansky's peak radio source, one of the brightest in the sky, was designated Sagittarius A in the 1950s and, instead of being galactic "gas and dust", was later hypothesized to be emitted by electrons in a strong magnetic field. Current thinking is that these are ions in orbit around a massive Black hole at the center of the galaxy at a point now designated as Sagitarius A*. The asterisk indicates that the particles at Sagitarius A are ionized.)[4][5][6][7] Jansky announced his discovery in 1933. He wanted to investigate the radio waves from the Milky Way in further detail, but Bell Labs reassigned him to another project, so he did no further work in the field of astronomy. His pioneering efforts in the field of radio astronomy have been recognized by the naming of the fundamental unit of flux density, the jansky (Jy), after him.

Grote Reber was inspired by Jansky's work, and built a parabolic radio telescope 9m in diameter in his backyard in 1937. He began by repeating Jansky's observations, and then conducted the first sky survey in the radio frequencies.[8] On February 27, 1942, James Stanley Hey, a British Army research officer, made the first detection of radio waves emitted by the Sun.[9] Later that year George Clark Southworth,[10] at Bell Labs like Jansky, also detected radiowaves from the sun. Both researchers were bound by wartime security surrounding radar, so Reber, who was not, published his 1944 findings first.[11] Several other people independently discovered solar radiowaves, including E. Schott in Denmark[12] and Elizabeth Alexander working on Norfolk Island.[13][14][15][16]

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, United States is the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope.

At Cambridge University, where ionospheric research had taken place during World War II, J.A. Ratcliffe along with other members of the Telecommunications Research Establishment that had carried out wartime research into radar, created a radiophysics group at the university where radio wave emissions from the Sun were observed and studied.

This early research soon branched out into the observation of other celestial radio sources and interferometry techniques were pioneered to isolate the angular source of the detected emissions. Martin Ryle and Antony Hewish at the Cavendish Astrophysics Group developed the technique of Earth-rotation aperture synthesis. The radio astronomy group in Cambridge went on to found the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory near Cambridge in the 1950s. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, as computers (such as the Titan) became capable of handling the computationally intensive Fourier transform inversions required, they used aperture synthesis to create a 'One-Mile' and later a '5 km' effective aperture using the One-Mile and Ryle telescopes, respectively. They used the Cambridge Interferometer to map the radio sky, producing the famous 2C and 3C surveys of radio sources.[17]


First 7-metre ALMA Antenna
First 7-metre ESO/NAOJ/NRAO ALMA Antenna.[18]

Radio astronomers use different techniques to observe objects in the radio spectrum. Instruments may simply be pointed at an energetic radio source to analyze its emission. To "image" a region of the sky in more detail, multiple overlapping scans can be recorded and pieced together in a mosaic image. The type of instrument used depends on the strength of the signal and the amount of detail needed.

Observations from the Earth's surface are limited to wavelengths that can pass through the atmosphere. At low frequencies, or long wavelengths, transmission is limited by the ionosphere, which reflects waves with frequencies less than its characteristic plasma frequency. Water vapor interferes with radio astronomy at higher frequencies, which has led to building radio observatories that conduct observations at millimeter wavelengths at very high and dry sites, in order to minimize the water vapor content in the line of sight. Finally, transmitting devices on earth may cause radio-frequency interference. Because of this, many radio observatories are built at remote places.

Radio telescopes

M87 optical image
M87 VLA VLBA radio astronomy
An optical image of the galaxy M87 (HST), a radio image of same galaxy using Interferometry (Very Large ArrayVLA), and an image of the center section (VLBA) using a Very Long Baseline Array (Global VLBI) consisting of antennas in the US, Germany, Italy, Finland, Sweden and Spain. The jet of particles is suspected to be powered by a black hole in the center of the galaxy.

Radio telescopes may need to be extremely large in order to receive signals with high signal-to-noise ratio. Also since angular resolution is a function of the diameter of the "objective" in proportion to the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation being observed, radio telescopes have to be much larger in comparison to their optical counterparts. For example, a 1-meter diameter optical telescope is two million times bigger than the wavelength of light observed giving it a resolution of roughly 0.3 arc seconds, whereas a radio telescope "dish" many times that size may, depending on the wavelength observed, only be able to resolve an object the size of the full moon (30 minutes of arc).

Radio interferometry

The difficulty in achieving high resolutions with single radio telescopes led to radio interferometry, developed by British radio astronomer Martin Ryle and Australian engineer, radiophysicist, and radio astronomer Joseph Lade Pawsey and Ruby Payne-Scott in 1946. Surprisingly the first use of a radio interferometer for an astronomical observation was carried out by Payne-Scott, Pawsey and Lindsay McCready on 26 January 1946 using a SINGLE converted radar antenna (broadside array) at 200 MHz near Sydney, Australia. This group used the principle of a sea-cliff interferometer in which the antenna (formerly a World War II radar) observed the sun at sunrise with interference arising from the direct radiation from the sun and the reflected radiation from the sea. With this baseline of almost 200 meters, the authors determined that the solar radiation during the burst phase was much smaller than the solar disk and arose from a region associated with a large sunspot group. The Australia group laid out the principles of aperture synthesis in a ground-breaking paper published in 1947. The use of a sea-cliff interferometer had been demonstrated by numerous groups in Australia, Iran and the UK during World War II, who had observed interference fringes (the direct radar return radiation and the reflected signal from the sea) from incoming aircraft.

The Cambridge group of Ryle and Vonberg observed the sun at 175 MHz for the first time in mid July 1946 with a Michelson interferometer consisting of two radio antennas with spacings of some tens of meters up to 240 meters. They showed that the radio radiation was smaller than 10 arc minutes in size and also detected circular polarization in the Type I bursts. Two other groups had also detected circular polarization at about the same time (David Martyn in Australia and Edward Appleton with James Stanley Hey in the UK).

Modern Radio interferometers consist of widely separated radio telescopes observing the same object that are connected together using coaxial cable, waveguide, optical fiber, or other type of transmission line. This not only increases the total signal collected, it can also be used in a process called Aperture synthesis to vastly increase resolution. This technique works by superposing ("interfering") the signal waves from the different telescopes on the principle that waves that coincide with the same phase will add to each other while two waves that have opposite phases will cancel each other out. This creates a combined telescope that is the size of the antennas furthest apart in the array. In order to produce a high quality image, a large number of different separations between different telescopes are required (the projected separation between any two telescopes as seen from the radio source is called a "baseline") – as many different baselines as possible are required in order to get a good quality image. For example, the Very Large Array has 27 telescopes giving 351 independent baselines at once.

Very-long-baseline interferometry

Mt Pleasant radio telescope night
The Mount Pleasant Radio Telescope is the southern most antenna used in Australia's VLBI network

Beginning in the 1970s, improvements in the stability of radio telescope receivers permitted telescopes from all over the world (and even in Earth orbit) to be combined to perform very-long-baseline interferometry. Instead of physically connecting the antennas, data received at each antenna is paired with timing information, usually from a local atomic clock, and then stored for later analysis on magnetic tape or hard disk. At that later time, the data is correlated with data from other antennas similarly recorded, to produce the resulting image. Using this method it is possible to synthesise an antenna that is effectively the size of the Earth. The large distances between the telescopes enable very high angular resolutions to be achieved, much greater in fact than in any other field of astronomy. At the highest frequencies, synthesised beams less than 1 milliarcsecond are possible.

The pre-eminent VLBI arrays operating today are the Very Long Baseline Array (with telescopes located across North America) and the European VLBI Network (telescopes in Europe, China, South Africa and Puerto Rico). Each array usually operates separately, but occasional projects are observed together producing increased sensitivity. This is referred to as Global VLBI. There are also a VLBI networks, operating in Australia and New Zealand called the LBA (Long Baseline Array),[19] and arrays in Japan, China and South Korea which observe together to form the East-Asian VLBI Network (EAVN).[20]

Since its inception, recording data onto hard media was the only way to bring the data recorded at each telescope together for later correlation. However, the availability today of worldwide, high-bandwidth networks makes it possible to do VLBI in real time. This technique (referred to as e-VLBI) was originally pioneered in Japan, and more recently adopted in Australia and in Europe by the EVN (European VLBI Network) who perform an increasing number of scientific e-VLBI projects per year.[21]

Astronomical sources

GCRT J1745-3009 2
A radio image of the central region of the Milky Way galaxy. The arrow indicates a supernova remnant which is the location of a newly discovered transient, bursting low-frequency radio source GCRT J1745-3009.

Radio astronomy has led to substantial increases in astronomical knowledge, particularly with the discovery of several classes of new objects, including pulsars, quasars[22] and radio galaxies. This is because radio astronomy allows us to see things that are not detectable in optical astronomy. Such objects represent some of the most extreme and energetic physical processes in the universe.

The cosmic microwave background radiation was also first detected using radio telescopes. However, radio telescopes have also been used to investigate objects much closer to home, including observations of the Sun and solar activity, and radar mapping of the planets.

Other sources include:

International regulation

Effelsberg total2
Antenna 100 m of the Radio telescope Effelsberg, Germany
Green Bank Telescope
Antenna 110m of the Green Bank radio telescope, USA
Jupiter radio-bursts

Radio astronomy service (also: radio astronomy radiocommunication service) is, according to Article 1.58 of the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) Radio Regulations (RR),[24] defined as "A radiocommunication service involving the use of radio astronomy". Subject of this radiocommunication service is to receive radio waves transmitted by astronomical or celestial objects.

Frequency allocation

The allocation of radio frequencies is provided according to Article 5 of the ITU Radio Regulations (edition 2012).[25]

In order to improve harmonisation in spectrum utilisation, the majority of service-allocations stipulated in this document were incorporated in national Tables of Frequency Allocations and Utilisations which is with-in the responsibility of the appropriate national administration. The allocation might be primary, secondary, exclusive, and shared.

  • primary allocation: is indicated by writing in capital letters (see example below)
  • secondary allocation: is indicated by small letters
  • exclusive or shared utilization: is within the responsibility of administrations

In line to the appropriate ITU Region the frequency bands are allocated (primary or secondary) to the radio astronomy service as follows.

Allocation to services
     Region 1           Region 2           Region 3     
13 360–13 410 kHz  FIXED
25 550–25 650          RADIO ASTRONOMY
37.5–38.25 MHz  FIXED
Radio astronomy
322–328.6     FIXED
406.1–410     FIXED
MOBILE except aeronautical mobile
1 400–1 427   EARTH EXPLORATION-SATELLITE (passive)
1 610.6–1 613.8




1 610.6–1 613.8






SATELLITE (Earth-to-space)
1 610.6–1 613.8






satellite (Earth-to-space)
10.6–10.68 GHz   RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
10.68–10.7           RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
14.47–14.5           RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
15.35–15.4           RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
22.21–22.5           RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
23.6–24                RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services
31.3–31.5             RADIO ASTRONOMY and other services

See also


  1. ^ F. Ghigo. "Pre-History of Radio Astronomy". National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Retrieved 2010-04-09.
  2. ^ a b "World of Scientific Discovery on Karl Jansky". Retrieved 2010-04-09.
  3. ^ Jansky, Karl G. (1933). "Radio waves from outside the solar system". Nature. 132 (3323): 66. Bibcode:1933Natur.132...66J. doi:10.1038/132066a0.
  4. ^ Belusević, R. (2008). Relativity, Astrophysics and Cosmology: Volume 1. Wiley-VCH. p. 163. ISBN 978-3527407644.
  5. ^ Kambič, B. Viewing the Constellations with Binoculars. Springer. pp. 131–133. ISBN 978-0387853550.
  6. ^ Gillessen, S.; Eisenhauer, F.; Trippe, S.; et al. (2009). "Monitoring Stellar Orbits around the Massive Black Hole in the Galactic Center". The Astrophysical Journal. 692 (2): 1075–1109. arXiv:0810.4674. Bibcode:2009ApJ...692.1075G. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/692/2/1075.
  7. ^ Brown, R.L. (1982). "Precessing jets in Sagittarius A – Gas dynamics in the central parsec of the galaxy". Astrophysical Journal. 262: 110–119. Bibcode:1982ApJ...262..110B. doi:10.1086/160401.
  8. ^ "Grote Reber". Retrieved 2010-04-09.
  9. ^ Hey, J.S. (1975). Radio Universe (2nd ed.). Pergamon Press. ISBN 978-0080187617.
  10. ^ Southworth, G.C. (1945). "Microwave radiation from the Sun". Journal of the Franklin Institute. 239: 285–297. doi:10.1016/0016-0032(45)90163-3.
  11. ^ Kellerman, K. I. (1999). "Grote Reber's Observations on Cosmic Static". Astrophysical Journal. 525C: 371. Bibcode:1999ApJ...525C.371K.
  12. ^ Schott, E. (1947). "175 MHz-Strahlung der Sonne". Physikalische Blätter (in German). 3 (5): 159–160. doi:10.1002/phbl.19470030508.
  13. ^ Alexander, F.E.S. (1945). Long Wave Solar Radiation. Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Radio Development Laboratory.
  14. ^ Alexander, F.E.S. (1945). Report of the Investigation of the "Norfolk Island Effect". Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Radio Development Laboratory.
  15. ^ Alexander, F.E.S. (1946). "The Sun's radio energy". Radio & Electronics. 1 (1): 16–17. (see R&E holdings at NLNZ Archived 2016-07-23 at
  16. ^ Orchiston, W. (2005). "Dr Elizabeth Alexander: First Female Radio Astronomer". The New Astronomy: Opening the Electromagnetic Window and Expanding Our View of Planet Earth. Astrophysics and Space Science Library. 334. pp. 71–92. doi:10.1007/1-4020-3724-4_5. ISBN 978-1-4020-3723-8.
  17. ^ "Radio Astronomy". Cambridge University: Department of Physics. Archived from the original on 2013-11-10.
  18. ^ "First 7-metre ALMA Antenna Arrives at Chajnantor". ESO Picture of the Week. 29 August 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ A technological breakthrough for radio astronomy – Astronomical observations via high-speed data link
  22. ^ Shields, Gregory A. (1999). "A brief history of AGN". The Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 111 (760): 661–678. arXiv:astro-ph/9903401. Bibcode:1999PASP..111..661S. doi:10.1086/316378. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  23. ^ "Conclusion". Archived from the original on 2006-01-28. Retrieved 2006-03-29.
  24. ^ ITU Radio Regulations, Section IV. Radio Stations and Systems – Article 1.58, definition: radio astronomy service / radio astronomy radiocommunication service
  25. ^ ITU Radio Regulations, CHAPTER II – Frequencies, ARTICLE 5 Frequency allocations, Section IV – Table of Frequency Allocations

Further reading

  • Bruno Bertotti (ed.), Modern Cosmology in Retrospect. Cambridge University Press 1990.
  • James J. Condon, et al.: Essential Radio Astronomy. Princeton University Press, Princeton 2016, ISBN 9780691137797.
  • Robin Michael Green, Spherical Astronomy. Cambridge University Press, 1985.
  • Raymond Haynes, Roslynn Haynes, and Richard McGee, Explorers of the Southern Sky: A History of Australian Astronomy. Cambridge University Press 1996.
  • J.S. Hey, The Evolution of Radio Astronomy. Neale Watson Academic, 1973.
  • David L. Jauncey, Radio Astronomy and Cosmology. Springer 1977.
  • Roger Clifton Jennison, Introduction to Radio Astronomy. 1967.
  • Albrecht Krüger, Introduction to Solar Radio Astronomy and Radio Physics. Springer 1979.
  • David P.D. Munns, A Single Sky: How an International Community Forged the Science of Radio Astronomy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.
  • Allan A. Needell, Science, Cold War and American State: Lloyd V. Berkner and the Balance of Professional Ideals. Routledge, 2000.
  • Joseph Lade Pawsey and Ronald Newbold Bracewell, Radio Astronomy. Clarendon Press, 1955.
  • Kristen Rohlfs, Thomas L Wilson, Tools of Radio Astronomy. Springer 2003.
  • D.T. Wilkinson and P.J.E. Peebles, Serendipitous Discoveries in Radio Astronomy. Green Bank, WV: National Radio Astronomy Observatory, 1983.
  • Woodruff T. Sullivan, III, The Early Years of Radio Astronomy: Reflections Fifty Years after Jansky's Discovery. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
  • Woodruff T. Sullivan, III, Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy. Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Woodruff T. Sullivan, III, Classics in Radio Astronomy. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, 1982.

External links

Aperture synthesis

Aperture synthesis or synthesis imaging is a type of interferometry that mixes signals from a collection of telescopes to produce images having the same angular resolution as an instrument the size of the entire collection. At each separation and orientation, the lobe-pattern of the interferometer produces an output which is one component of the Fourier transform of the spatial distribution of the brightness of the observed object. The image (or "map") of the source is produced from these measurements. Astronomical interferometers are commonly used for high-resolution optical, infrared, submillimetre and radio astronomy observations. For example, the Event Horizon Telescope project derived the first image of a black hole using aperture synthesis.

Atomic and molecular astrophysics

Atomic astrophysics is concerned with performing atomic physics calculations that will be useful to astronomers and using atomic data to interpret astronomical observations. Atomic physics plays a key role in astrophysics as astronomers' only information about a particular object comes through the light that it emits, and this light arises through atomic transitions.

Molecular astrophysics, developed into a rigorous field of investigation by theoretical astrochemist Alexander Dalgarno beginning in 1967, concerns the study of emission from molecules in space. There are 110 currently known interstellar molecules. These molecules have large numbers of observable transitions. Lines may also be observed in absorption—for example the highly redshifted lines seen against the gravitationally lensed quasar PKS1830-211. High energy radiation, such as ultraviolet light, can break the molecular bonds which hold atoms in molecules. In general then, molecules are found in cool astrophysical environments. The most massive objects in our galaxy are giant clouds of molecules and dust known as giant molecular clouds. In these clouds, and smaller versions of them, stars and planets are formed. One of the primary fields of study of molecular astrophysics is star and planet formation. Molecules may be found in many environments, however, from stellar atmospheres to those of planetary satellites. Most of these locations are relatively cool, and molecular emission is most easily studied via photons emitted when the molecules make transitions between low rotational energy states. One molecule, composed of the abundant carbon and oxygen atoms, and very stable against dissociation into atoms, is carbon monoxide (CO). The wavelength of the photon emitted when the CO molecule falls from its lowest excited state to its zero energy, or ground, state is 2.6mm, or 115 gigahertz. This frequency is a thousand times higher than typical FM radio frequencies. At these high frequencies, molecules in the Earth's atmosphere can block transmissions from space, and telescopes must be located in dry (water is an important atmospheric blocker), high sites. Radio telescopes must have very accurate surfaces to produce high fidelity images.

On February 21, 2014, NASA announced a greatly upgraded database for tracking polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the universe. According to scientists, more than 20% of the carbon in the universe may be associated with PAHs, possible starting materials for the formation of life. PAHs seem to have been formed shortly after the Big Bang, are widespread throughout the universe, and are associated with new stars and exoplanets.

Electromagnetic interference

Electromagnetic interference (EMI), also called radio-frequency interference (RFI) when in the radio frequency spectrum, is a disturbance generated by an external source that affects an electrical circuit by electromagnetic induction, electrostatic coupling, or conduction. The disturbance may degrade the performance of the circuit or even stop it from functioning. In the case of a data path, these effects can range from an increase in error rate to a total loss of the data. Both man-made and natural sources generate changing electrical currents and voltages that can cause EMI: ignition systems, cellular network of mobile phones, lightning, solar flares, and auroras (Northern/Southern Lights). EMI frequently affects AM radios. It can also affect mobile phones, FM radios, and televisions, as well as observations for radio astronomy.

EMI can be used intentionally for radio jamming, as in electronic warfare.

Explorer 38

Explorer 38 (also called as Radio Astronomy Explorer A, RAE-A and RAE-1) was the first satellite to study radioastronomy. Explorer 38 was launched as part of the Explorers program, being the first of the 2 satellites RAE. Explorer 38 was launched on 4 July 1968 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, United States, with a Delta J rocket.

Explorer 49

Explorer 49 (also called Radio Astronomy Explorer-B(RAE-B)) was a 328-kilogram satellite launched on June 10, 1973 for long wave radio astronomy research. It had four 230-meter-long X-shaped antenna elements, which made it one of the largest spacecraft ever built.

Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory

The Five College Radio Astronomical Observatory (FCRAO) was a radio astronomy observatory located on a peninsula in the Quabbin Reservoir. It was sited in the town of New Salem, Massachusetts on land that was originally part of Prescott, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1969 by the Five College Astronomy Department (University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass), Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College and Smith College). From its inception, the observatory has emphasized research, the development of technology and the training of students—both graduate and undergraduate.

The initial FCRAO telescope was a customized low-frequency antenna to search for pulsars in the galaxy. The development of instrumentation within the FCRAO labs contributed to the discovery of the binary pulsar system PSR B1913+16 by Joseph Taylor and Russell Hulse, for which they received the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics. It was replaced by a 14-meter radome-enclosed millimeter-wave telescope in 1976.

Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory

The Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) is a radio astronomy observatory, located in a natural bowl of hills at Hartebeesthoek just south of the Magaliesberg mountain range, Gauteng, South Africa, about 50 km west of Johannesburg. It is a National Research Facility run by South Africa's National Research Foundation. HartRAO was the only major radio astronomy observatory in Africa until the construction of the KAT-7 test bed for the future MeerKAT array.

Hydrogen line

The hydrogen line, 21-centimeter line or H I line refers to the electromagnetic radiation spectral line that is created by a change in the energy state of neutral hydrogen atoms. This electromagnetic radiation is at the precise frequency of 1420405751.7667±0.0009 Hz, which is equivalent to the vacuum wavelength of 21.1061140542 cm in free space. This wavelength falls within the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum, and it is observed frequently in radio astronomy, since those radio waves can penetrate the large clouds of interstellar cosmic dust that are opaque to visible light.

The microwaves of the hydrogen line come from the atomic transition of an electron between the two hyperfine levels of the hydrogen 1s ground state that have an energy difference of ≈ 5.87433 µeV. It is called the spin-flip transition. The frequency, ν, of the quanta that are emitted by this transition between two different energy levels is given by the Planck–Einstein relation E = hν. According to that relation, the photon energy of a 1,420,405,751.7667 Hz photon is ≈ 5.87433 µeV. The constant of proportionality, h, is known as the Planck constant.


The jansky (symbol Jy, plural janskys) is a non-SI unit of spectral flux density, or spectral irradiance, used especially in radio astronomy. It is equivalent to 10−26 watts per square metre per hertz.

The flux density or monochromatic flux, S, of a source is the integral of the spectral radiance, B, over the source solid angle:

The unit is named after pioneering US radio astronomer Karl Guthe Jansky and is defined as


Since the jansky is obtained by integrating over the whole source solid angle, it is most simply used to describe point sources; for example, the Third Cambridge Catalogue of Radio Sources (3C) reports results in janskys.

Jodrell Bank Observatory

The Jodrell Bank Observatory (originally the Jodrell Bank Experimental Station and from 1966 to 1999, the Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories; ) hosts a number of radio telescopes, and is part of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester. The observatory was established in 1945 by Bernard Lovell, a radio astronomer at the University of Manchester to investigate cosmic rays after his work on radar during the Second World War. It has since played an important role in the research of meteors, quasars, pulsars, masers and gravitational lenses, and was heavily involved with the tracking of space probes at the start of the Space Age. The managing director of the observatory is Professor Simon Garrington.

The main telescope at the observatory is the Lovell Telescope, which is the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world. There are three other active telescopes at the observatory; the Mark II, and 42 ft (13 m) and 7 m diameter radio telescopes. Jodrell Bank Observatory is the base of the Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN), a National Facility run by the University of Manchester on behalf of the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

The Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre and an arboretum, are in the civil parish of Lower Withington and the Lovell Telescope and the observatory are in Goostrey civil parish, near Goostrey and Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, North West England. The observatory is reached from the A535. The Crewe to Manchester Line passes right by the site, and Goostrey station is a short distance away. In 2018, the observatory became a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage site status.

Karl Guthe Jansky

Karl Guthe Jansky (October 22, 1905 – February 14, 1950) was an American physicist and radio engineer who in August 1931 first discovered radio waves emanating from the Milky Way. He is considered one of the founding figures of radio astronomy.

Martin Ryle

Sir Martin Ryle (27 September 1918 – 14 October 1984) was an English radio astronomer who developed revolutionary radio telescope systems (see e.g. aperture synthesis) and used them for accurate location and imaging of weak radio sources. In 1946 Ryle and Derek Vonberg were the first people to publish interferometric astronomical measurements at radio wavelengths. With improved equipment, Ryle observed the most distant known galaxies in the universe at that time. He was the first Professor of Radio Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, and founding director of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory. He was Astronomer Royal from 1972 to 1982. Ryle and Antony Hewish shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974, the first Nobel prize awarded in recognition of astronomical research. In the 1970s, Ryle turned the greater part of his attention from astronomy to social and political issues which he considered to be more urgent.

Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy

The Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfRA) (German: Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie) is located in Bonn, Germany. It is one of 80 institutes in the Max Planck Society (German: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft). 50°43′47.6″N 7°4′9.2″E

Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory

The Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory (MRAO) is located near Cambridge, UK and is home to a number of the largest and most advanced aperture synthesis radio telescopes in the world, including the One-Mile Telescope, 5-km Ryle Telescope, and the Arcminute Microkelvin Imager. It was founded by the University of Cambridge and is an institute of the Cambridge University Astronomy Department.

National Radio Astronomy Observatory

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center of the United States National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc for the purpose of radio astronomy. NRAO designs, builds, and operates its own high sensitivity radio telescopes for use by scientists around the world.

Pushchino Radio Astronomy Observatory

Pushchino Radio Astronomy Observatory is a Russian (former Soviet) radio astronomy observatory. It was developed by Lebedev Physical Institute (LPI), Russian Academy of Sciences within a span of twenty years. It was founded on April 11, 1956, and currently occupies 70 000 square meters.

Radio telescope

A radio telescope is a specialized antenna and radio receiver used to receive radio waves from astronomical radio sources in the sky. Radio telescopes are the main observing instrument used in radio astronomy, which studies the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum emitted by astronomical objects, just as optical telescopes are the main observing instrument used in traditional optical astronomy which studies the light wave portion of the spectrum coming from astronomical objects. Radio telescopes are typically large parabolic ("dish") antennas similar to those employed in tracking and communicating with satellites and space probes. They may be used singly or linked together electronically in an array. Unlike optical telescopes, radio telescopes can be used in the daytime as well as at night. Since astronomical radio sources such as planets, stars, nebulas and galaxies are very far away, the radio waves coming from them are extremely weak, so radio telescopes require very large antennas to collect enough radio energy to study them, and extremely sensitive receiving equipment. Radio observatories are preferentially located far from major centers of population to avoid electromagnetic interference (EMI) from radio, television, radar, motor vehicles, and other man-made electronic devices.

Radio waves from space were first detected by engineer Karl Guthe Jansky in 1932 at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey using an antenna built to study noise in radio receivers. The first purpose-built radio telescope was a 9-meter parabolic dish constructed by radio amateur Grote Reber in his back yard in Wheaton, Illinois in 1937. The sky survey he did with it is often considered the beginning of the field of radio astronomy.

Very-long-baseline interferometry

Very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) is a type of astronomical interferometry used in radio astronomy. In VLBI a signal from an astronomical radio source, such as a quasar, is collected at multiple radio telescopes on Earth. The distance between the radio telescopes is then calculated using the time difference between the arrivals of the radio signal at different telescopes. This allows observations of an object that are made simultaneously by many radio telescopes to be combined, emulating a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the telescopes.

Data received at each antenna in the array include arrival times from a local atomic clock, such as a hydrogen maser. At a later time, the data are correlated with data from other antennas that recorded the same radio signal, to produce the resulting image. The resolution achievable using interferometry is proportional to the observing frequency. The VLBI technique enables the distance between telescopes to be much greater than that possible with conventional interferometry, which requires antennas to be physically connected by coaxial cable, waveguide, optical fiber, or other type of transmission line. The greater telescope separations are possible in VLBI due to the development of the closure phase imaging technique by Roger Jennison in the 1950s, allowing VLBI to produce images with superior resolution.VLBI is best known for imaging distant cosmic radio sources, spacecraft tracking, and for applications in astrometry. However, since the VLBI technique measures the time differences between the arrival of radio waves at separate antennas, it can also be used "in reverse" to perform earth rotation studies, map movements of tectonic plates very precisely (within millimetres), and perform other types of geodesy. Using VLBI in this manner requires large numbers of time difference measurements from distant sources (such as quasars) observed with a global network of antennas over a period of time.

Very Large Array

The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is a centimeter-wavelength radio astronomy observatory located in central New Mexico on the Plains of San Agustin, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, ~40 miles (64 km) west of Socorro. The VLA comprises twenty-seven 25-meter radio telescopes deployed in a Y-shaped array and all the equipment, instrumentation, and computing power to function as an interferometer. Each of the massive telescopes is mounted on double parallel railroad tracks, so the radius and density of the array can be transformed to adjust the balance between its angular resolution and its surface brightness sensitivity. Astronomers using the VLA have made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way's center, probed the Universe's cosmological parameters, and provided new knowledge about the physical mechanisms that produce radio emission.

The VLA stands at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m) above sea level. It is a component of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). The NRAO is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

Visible (optical)
Wavelength types
Radio astronomy
Radio telescopes
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