Happy 100th, Grote Reber, creator of the big radio telescope

Today, December 22, 2011, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Grote Reber [pictured here, as he was around 1937], who is credited with building the first big dish radio telescope. Bill Higgins writes:

It has been 100 years since the birth of Grote Reber on 22 December 1911. He died nine years ago, but his scientific legacy opened a new window to the universe for astronomers. Growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, he loved amateur radio, the exciting new technology of the 1920s, and, while a teenager, had made contact with stations in 60 countries. He went on to obtain an electrical engineering degree at Armour Institute (now IIT). Reading of Karl Jansky‘s 1933 discovery of radio emissions from the Milky Way, Reber was sure that astronomers would want to study this phenomenon further, and reasoned that observatories would be hiring radio engineers. This turned out not to be the case; in the middle of the Great Depression, astronomers did not want to enter into a potentially-costly new field– though some encouraged Reber’s interest.

So around 1937, Grote Reber took matters into his own hands. He later wrote: “The astronomers were afraid of it because they didn’t know anything about radio. The radio people weren’t interested because it was so faint it didn’t even constitute an interference. Nobody was going to do anything. So, all right, if nobody was going to do anything, maybe I should do something.”

He designed and built a 31-foot dish in his yard [pictured here] — the largest parabolic antenna in the world….

Reber much later went to  Tasmania, where he did some nifty astronomy. If you’re in Tasmania, or if you ever go to Tasmania, get yourself over to Cambridge to visit the Grote Reber Museum.

(Thanks to investigator Geri Sullivan for bringing this to our attention.)