Dr Elizabeth Alexander and the Mysterious ‘Norfolk Island Effect’

  • Wayne Orchiston
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 422)


During March-April 1945, solar radio emission was detected at 200 MHz by operators of a Royal New Zealand Air Force radar unit located on Norfolk Island. Initially dubbed the ‘Norfolk Island Effect’, this anomalous radiation was investigated throughout 1945 by British-born Elizabeth Alexander, head of the Operational Research Section of the Radio Development Laboratory in New Zealand. Alexander prepared a number of reports on this work, and in early 1946 she published a short paper in the newly-launched journal, Radio and Electronics. A physicist and geologist by training, Elizabeth Alexander happened to be in the right place at the right time, and unwittingly became the first woman in the world to work in the field that would later become known as radio astronomy. Her research also led to further solar radio astronomy projects in New Zealand in the immediate post-war year, and in part was responsible for the launch of the radio astronomy program at the Division of Radiophysics, CSIR, in Sydney, Australia.


Sunspot Number Solar Radio Radio Astronomy Normal Noise Radar Station 
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I am grateful to the following for their assistance: the late Gordon H. Burns (Wanganui, NZ), the late Professor E.R. Collins (Mahurangi East, NZ), Ross Galbreath (Tuakau, NZ), Professor Alan Maxwell (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA), Dr Bruce Slee (CSIRO Astronomy and Space Sciences, Sydney, Australia), Professor Woody Sullivan (University of Washington, USA), the late Dr Bob Unwin (Wanaka, NZ), the late Dr R.M. Williams (Wellington, NZ), staff at the National Archives of New Zealand (Wellington), and especially Elizabeth Alexander’s three children, Mary Harris (London), Bernice Jones (Edinburgh) and Bill Alexander (Leamington Spa). I also wish to thank Mary Harris for reading and commenting on the first draft of this chapter, and Mary Harris and Alan Maxwell for kindly supplying Figs. 23.1, 23.2, 23.4 and 23.10.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Astronomical Research Institute of ThailandChiang MaiThailand

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