Saturday, September 15, 2007

Save the Cradle of Radio Astronomy

Several weeks ago I wrote about the passing of an era with closing of the Bell Labs' Holmdel facility. While I highlighted the innovation and invention that I was exposed, I failed to mention many of the historically significant events that occurred in and around the facility. One of those events was the birth of radio astronomy.

The striking mirrored glass building with its cooling pond and transistor shaped water tower sits on 472 acres of land required at the time to meet occupancy density requirements. The land was put to good use beyond the soccer field and baseball diamonds. In 1931, before the land was developed, Karl Guthe Jansky set up the world's first radio telescope to measure and characterize the noise from space that may interfere with microwave communications signals that transported long-distance phone calls. The spot where Jansky set up the antennas is considered to be the cradle of radio astronomy. The exact site is commemorated with a sculpture and plaque. His pioneering work let to the discovery of quasars, pulsars, and black holes, as well as the formulation of the big bang theory (at a site just up the street).

Now that the building and land have been sold to a real estate developer, the fate of the Jansky Memorial remains unknown. The developer plans to demolish the building and erect office buildings and homes. Holmdel is a very upscale township in Monmouth county were office space and homes are sold at a premium. I am sure that the developers plan on developing that land to its fullest potential. The developer and current owner of the property realizes the significance of the site and Jansky Monument, but there are no guarantees what may happen to it once the property is developed and sold.

Three former Bell Labs astrophysics researchers are trying to preserve the site and have it designated a historical landmark. Their web site, Save the Cradle of Radio Astronomy, is devoted to the task of obtaining that historical designation. For more information on Jansky or the effort to preserve the monument read the excellent article in "The Institute" of the IEEE that Willie D. Jones wrote. If you are interested in preserving this historical landmark, visit the site to see what you can do.

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