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The National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank is home to the historic Reber Radio Telescope, the first telescope built specifically for picking up radio waves from outer space.

As a young man, Grote Reber (December 22, 1911-December 20, 2002) was interested in the earlier work of Karl Jansky. While working at Bell Laboratories, Jansky built an antenna to detect sources of static interfering with radio signals, and in 1932, he was the first to establish that radiation at radio wavelengths was reaching the earth from outer space. In 1937, while working for a radio company, Reber built a telescope at his own expense in his backyard in Wheaton, Illinois. The telescope had a 31.4-foot diameter parabolic dish that could be pointed at the sky and was powered by an electrical cord from his house.

In 1938, Reber confirmed Jansky’s discovery, and in the years that followed, Reber completed a radio survey of the sky and published the results in both engineering and astronomy journals. He laid the groundwork for radio astronomy, a field that blossomed after World War II.

Reber donated the telescope he had built to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank and supervised its assembly there during the 1960s. He also supervised the construction at Green Bank of a replica of the antenna that Jansky used to first pick up radio waves from space. The Reber telescope was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

This Article was written by Becky Calwell

Last Revised on January 11, 2012


Cite This Article

Calwell, Becky "Reber Telescope." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 11 January 2012. Web. 14 December 2018.

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