Merry Grotemas!: A celebration in honor of the greatest radiofan who ever lived

Between 1937 and roughly 1946 there was only one radio astronomer in the entire world: Grote Reber, an amateur from the Chicago suburbs. Reber was a HAM operator who worked in radio manufacturing. At night, he'd come home and tune into the stars, using a home-built telescope he erected in his backyard in Wheaton. It was the second antenna to be used for astronomy ever, after Karl-freaking-Jansky's. Truly, Reber was one badass Happy Mutant.

Grote Reber died in 2002. He would have been 100 years old today, and reader Bill Higgins has written him a lovely and awe-inspiring tribute. Here's a short excerpt:

[Reber] later wrote: "The astronomers were afraid of it because they didn't know anything about radio. The radio people weren't interested because it was so faint it didn't even constitute an interference. Nobody was going to do anything. So, all right, if nobody was going to do anything, maybe I should do something."

He designed and built a 31-foot dish in his yard– the largest parabolic antenna in the world, pivoting on a Model-T rear axle. Wheaton had never seen anything like it. Neighbors were mystified by the bizarre device. Astronomer and historian Woodruff Sullivan wrote: "One can imagine the reaction of the townsfolk as the machine rose some 50 feet into the air behind the house at 212 West Seminary Avenue– perhaps akin to those of Noah's neighbors when he started on the Ark."

But they got used to it. Children climbed on it, rhubarb grew beneath it, and Reber's mom hung wet laundry on it.

Reber built and tested receivers sensitive enough to pick up the "noise" Jansky had detected at 20 megahertz. Over months, he swept the sky listening for emissions at 3300 MHz, expecting stronger signals at higher frequency. He detected nothing. He built a 900 MHz receiver, and spent more months listening. Nothing. He built a 160 MHz receiver. At last, he began to detect "cosmic static."

In 1940, he published his first results. He continued to sweep the sky, and by 1944 could publish a map of the radio sky.

Via Bill Higgins on Submiterator