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Silent Key -- Grote Reber, W9GFZ



It is with a lot of personal sadness that I read in today's Washington Post
(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38383-2002Dec25.html) of the
passing of Grote Reber, ex-W9GFZ. A nice news piece is also carried on the
ARRL's web site (http://www.arrl.org/news/stories/2002/12/23/2/?nc=1).

In 1932, Karl Jansky that detected radio signals from our own Milky Way
galaxy at a frequency near the present 15 Meter amateur band with a Sterba
curtain array (http://www.gb.nrao.edu/fgdocs/jansky/jansky.html).

Starting in 1937, in the backyard of his home in Wheaton Illinois, a young
(he was than 26) year old radio amateur named Grote Reber, W9GFZ became
fascinated with Jansky's discoveries and set out to build his own radio
telescope. The result was a 30 foot, fully steerable dish antenna
(http://www.gb.nrao.edu/fgdocs/reber/images/grote2.gif).

Grote first tried to build a 3300 MHz radiometer, then a 900 MHz radiometer
but neither effort was successful. He then went to 160 MHz and was
successful in seeing a diurnal signal pattern with maxima that corresponded
to the passing of the plane of the Milky Way
(http://www.gb.nrao.edu/fgdocs/reber/images/grote4.gif).

Thru the course of the next few years, despite World War 2 blazing in
Europe, Asia and Africa, despite the poor (by today's standards) of VHF
receiving hardware, Grote was able to construct crude maps of the radio
signals from our galaxy at 160 and 480 MHz
(http://www.gb.nrao.edu/fgdocs/reber/images/grote5.gif). Much of Grote's
story is told on the NRAO web site at
http://www.gb.nrao.edu/fgdocs/reber/greber.html.

After WW2, Grote sold off most of his Wheaton hardware to the National
Bureau of Standards (NBS, now known as NIST) and their Central Radio
Propagation Labs (CRPL). In the 1950's, Grote emigrated to Tasmania to build
low-frequency (1-5 MHz) radio telescopes. The 30' telescope he left behind
was left to rot in the CRPL junkyard.

In the 1960's, the US concentrated it's radio astronomy efforts on the
Government funded, multi-university laboratory known as the National Radio
Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). At the NRAO facility in Greenbank, WV it was
decided to re-construct the historical W9GFZ telescope (the results are seen
at http://www.gb.nrao.edu/fgdocs/reber/images/grote6.gif). Grote was invited
back to help and when he arrived in Greenbank, the observatory director
asked if he had any other science experiments to perform. Grote answered
"Well, I brought some beans that have stalks that spiral counterclockwise in
Tasmania. I want to see if the beans will spiral in the opposite direction
in the northern hemisphere."

Now I come to the personal part of this story. In the early 1960's I was a
young graduate student at the Univ. of Colorado working at NBS/CRPL. My
thesis involved building a large radio telescope at 10 MHz. I scrounged
around in the warehouse ad found several old Esterline-Angus strip chart
recorders. All of them had Grote's personal property tag on them and some
still had original recordings of the type seen in
http://www.gb.nrao.edu/fgdocs/reber/images/grote4.gif on the tail-ends of
the rolls of chart paper. I rebuilt those legacy instruments and they helped
"Elmer" my scientific career.

Years later I met Grote personally. We chatted for hours about using amateur
radio techniques to build radio telescopes; we shared a lot of experiences
in mucking around for cosmic signals down in the 1-10 MHz range. I then told
him of my use of his old EA recorders and he asked if I had ever been able
to make a particular one ink properly. I told him that I had found it
necessary to rebuild them all. He was pleased!

In 1983 in Greenbank, we re-activated the original Jansky telescope on 15 M
to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jansky's original discovery and put the
140' radio on 432 EME.
73, Grote -- you are missed in my heart.

Tom Clark

Other references:
http://web.mit.edu/invent/www/inventorsR-Z/reber.html
http://www.setileague.org/songbook/reber.htm
http://www.phys-astro.sonoma.edu/BruceMedalists/Reber/index.html
http://personal.nbnet.nb.ca/galaxy/G_Reber.html

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