In the 'thirties a phone call across the Atlantic would ride on a radio beam,
And there would be bad interference and static, but only at times, it would seem.
At Bell Laboratories a young engineer named Karl Jansky was given the task
Of solving the problem of static. And thankfully, he knew the questions to ask.
He built an antenna for the twenty-one MegaHertz, one which could not be ignored.
To steer it was turned on a circular track on the wheels of a Model T Ford.
He discovered the noise was indeed periodic, but in an unusual way:
The signals that Jansky detected appeared about four minutes early each day.
The only conclusion that Jansky could draw was sufficient to boggle the mind.
For the temporal pattern of radio noise no terrestrial cause could he find.
The static, he reasoned, must come from beyond, emanating from quite far away.
We now know the sound was the song of the stars at the center of our Milky Way.
In modern astronomy history Jansky has taken a prominent place
As he who discovered the very existence of radio signals in space.
We measure flux density these days in Janskys. They equal, you may be aware,
Just ten to the negative twenty-six Joules per second per Hertz meter squared.
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this page last updated 31 January 2009
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