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Joe Pawsey and the Founding of Australian Radio Astronomy

Early Discoveries, from the Sun to the Cosmos

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  • Open Access
  • © 2023

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  • Presents the biography of Joseph Lade Pawsey, detailing his life and legacy
  • Explains how Australia became a leader in the study of radio astronomy and instrument design
  • Tells a previously untold story based on primary sources
  • This book is open access, which means that you have free and unlimited access

Part of the book series: Historical & Cultural Astronomy (HCA)

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About this book

This open access book is a biography of Joseph L. Pawsey. It examines not only his life but the birth and growth of the field of radio astronomy and the state of science itself in twentieth century Australia. The book explains how an isolated continent with limited resources grew to be one of the leaders in the study of radio astronomy and the design of instruments to do so. 

Pawsey made a name for himself in the international astronomy community within a decade after WWII and coined the term radio astronomy. His most valuable talent was his ability to recruit and support bright young scientists who became the technical and methodological innovators of the era, building new telescopes from the Mills Cross and Chris (Christiansen) Cross to the Parkes radio telescope.

The development of aperture synthesis and the controversy surrounding the cosmological interpretation of the first major survey which resulted in the Sydney research group's disagreements withNobel laureate Martin Ryle play major roles in this story. This book also shows the connections among prominent astronomers like Oort, Minkowski, Baade, Struve, famous scientists in the UK such as J.A. Ratcliffe, Edward Appleton and Henry Tizard, and the engineers and physicists in Australia who helped develop the field of radio astronomy. Pawsey was appointed the second Director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (Green Bank, West Virginia) in October 1961; he died in Sydney at the age of 54 in late November 1962.

Upper level students, scientists and historians of astronomy and technology will find the information, much of it from primary sources, relevant to any study of Joseph L. Pawsey or radio astronomy. This open access book includes a Foreword by Woodruff T. Sullivan II.

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Table of contents (42 chapters)

  1. Childhood

  2. Becoming a Scientist

  3. WWII 1939–1945

  4. Hot Corona

  5. Connections


“This comprehensive biography draws on an extraordinarily large volume of international and institutional archival material, supplemented by multiple interviews and extensive discussions with astronomical colleagues of Pawsey. … The remarkable life and career of Joe Pawsey deserves to be more widely known by the international astronomical community.” (Peter Robertson, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, Vol. 26 (3), 2023)

Authors and Affiliations

  • National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Socorro, USA

    W. M. Goss

  • Sydney Health Ethics, Sydney School of Public Health, Sydney, Australia

    Claire Hooker

  • Australia Telescope National Facility, CSIRO, Epping, Australia

    Ronald D. Ekers

About the authors

W. M. Goss has published over 500 papers in refereed journals and was the Director of the Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in New Mexico. He has written three books on the history of radio astronomy: Under the Radar, The First Woman in Radio Astronomy, Ruby Payne-Scott, (by Goss and McGee, Springer, 2009, in the series Astrophysics and Space Science Library), followed by Making Waves, The Story of Ruby Payne-Scott, Australian Pioneer Radio Astronomer (Goss, Springer, 2013, for a more popular audience in The Astronomers University Series). In 2017, a new book in this later series was published (book launch was 9 February 2018 at Sydney University) by Frater, Goss and Wendt, Four Pillars of Radio Astronomy: Mills, Christiansen, Wild, Bracewell. Goss has worked throughout his career on the physics of the interstellar medium, the radio continuum of the galactic centre and pulsar astrometry. Goss was the recipient of the Australian Academy of Science Pawsey Medal in 1976.

Claire Hooker holds a PhD in the history of science and medicine, work that underpins her teaching and research in the variegated field of the Health and Medical Humanities. She has taken an historical-oriented approach to studies of how different stakeholders respond to health risks, particularly in response to infectious disease.  She has published 3 books and over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on topics as diverse as non-representational theories of empathy and of infection control, the importance of taking a multi-cultural approach to the medical humanities, and the use of video-reflexive ethnography to improve hospital practice. Claire Hooker has sustained interest in the history of radio astronomy since completing her PhD courtesy of a continued connection with W.M. Goss.

Ronald D. Ekers is one of the more prominent astronomers in Australia. He was the first Director of the completed US VeryLarge Array, then the Foundation Director of CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility. He is a past President of the International Astronomical Union (2003-2006), a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, the Royal Dutch Academy of Science, the Royal Society of London (FRS) and the US National Academy of Science. Ekers is the author of over 280 refereed publications and editor of SETI 2020. Ekers research interests in astronomy are broad; including extragalactic astronomy and cosmology, galactic nuclei (the centres of galaxies), ultra-high energy particle physics and innovative applications of radio astronomical techniques.

Bibliographic Information

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