A Single Sky

A Single Sky : How an International Community Forged the Science of Radio Astronomy

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How radio astronomers challenged national borders, disciplinary boundaries, and the constraints of vision to create an international scientific community.

For more than three thousand years, the science of astronomy depended on visible light. In just the last sixty years, radio technology has fundamentally altered how astronomers see the universe. Combining the wartime innovation of radar and the established standards of traditional optical telescopes, the "radio telescope" offered humanity a new vision of the universe. In A Single Sky, the historian David Munns explains how the idea of the radio telescope emerged from a new scientific community uniting the power of radio with the international aspirations of the discipline of astronomy. The radio astronomers challenged Cold War era rivalries by forging a united scientific community looking at a single sky.

Munns tells the interconnecting stories of Australian, British, Dutch, and American radio astronomers, all seeking to learn how to see the universe by means of radio. Jointly, this international array of radio astronomers built a new "community" style of science opposing the "glamour" of nuclear physics. A Single Sky describes a communitarian style of science, a culture of interdisciplinary and international integration and cooperation, and counters the notion that recent science has been driven by competition. Collaboration, or what a prominent radio astronomer called "a blending of radio invention and astronomical insight," produced a science as revolutionary as Galileo's first observations with a telescope. Working together, the community of radio astronomers revealed the structure of the galaxy.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 264 pages
  • 180.34 x 231.14 x 25.4mm | 589.67g
  • MIT Press Ltd
  • MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Mass., United States
  • English
  • 12 figures
  • 0262018330
  • 9780262018333
  • 1,001,118

Review quote

A Single Sky makes an important contribution to the history of physics in the high Cold War (ca. 1944--1964). In choosing to tell the story of radio astronomy, Munns has selected a science that operated in the looming shadow of physics and one in which participants chose not to mimic their more well-known and well-supported colleagues in high-energy physics. -- Ann Johnson * The Journal of American History * This is a splendid account of early radio astronomy, meticulously researched and beautifully written. It is a concise yet valuable contribution to scholarship covering the two decades when astronomers first confronted the invisible universe. -- Simon Mitton * American Historical Review *
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About David P. D. Munns

David P. D. Munns is Assistant Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York.
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