In Homdel, New Jersey, less than a mile (~one km) from the often ear splitting outdoor concerts of the Garden State (PNC) Arts Center, sits this odd looking contraption designed and built by Bell Labs, the historic and prestigious research arm of AT&T. Jeanne and I visited this recently.
…Known as a “horn” antenna, here facing down for storage, this large (for its day) 15 meter (50 ft.) sheet metal radio telescope was specifically built to bounce and receive radio signals off early satellite experiments using the 100 ft. diameter Echo I Satellite Balloon, launched August 12, 1960.
(On March 14, 1963, I took this 25 minute guided photo showing the Echo I satellite, as a wavering-bright “star trail” due to it’s slight deflation, passing overhead from the then dark skies of Bayville New Jersey.)
But what really ensured the telescope’s place in history was the work of Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, who in 1964 could not explain a mysterious background “noise” being picked up by the ultra sensitive cryogenic microwave receiver.
They systematically tried to eliminate any terrrestrial sources. No difference was detected when pointed generally toward New York City for example. Bird droppings, thought to be creating some sort of electrostatic interference, were cleaned from the horn, to no avail. Perhaps if the Arts Center were already there, with its 10,000 patrons and concerts, it too would have been suspected. (Although Jeanne and I would see Glen Cambell perform there four years later, Engene Ormandy (music of “Star Wars”) was also one of the early classical performers!)
But, after conferring with Robert Dicke, a particle physicist at nearby Princeton University – and familiar with the theoretical, but never before detected “background radiation” components of the Big Bang Theory of cosmological evolution, the source of the mysterious “static” was eventually verified and now the keystone for the theory’s acceptance.
The telescope is located in a semi-wooded area on Telegraph Hill in Homdel, NJ, on the private property of Alcatel-Lucent Technologys, and not readily accessible without special permission.
As usual, thanks for viewing, and comments are always welcome. M:-)
(Thanks to Wikipedia for their indispensable resources. Please consider contributing via their site.)
8 thoughts on “Glen Campbell, a Horn Antenna, a 100 ft. Balloon and The BIG Bang…All Here, All There”
Great 1963 photo . . . I’ve tried matching the rotation of the earth by hand, but I’ve yet to get the hang of it.
Yes, I kid.
Also, I recognized that telescope without reading the text or the title. I don’t recall the name of show, but I remember watching a documentary of its role in Astrophysics. Do I get extra credit?
Extra credit granted. Go to the head of the class, and behave yourself! M 🙂
I love this post. Space and all belong to it, has great interest to me. Thank You.
Thanks. A life-long interest for me also. Owning a number of optical telescopes over the years, my enthuisim was sparked by my father when I was only about 10 years old. One evening, under far less light-polluted skies than today, he pointed out the Andromedea Galaxy to myself and my brother (who later would work for Bell Labs.) This past week, I had the opportunity to see that galaxy again (with un-aided eye) surrounded by a million stars while on a brief but extraordinary trip to Utah’s remote Lake Powell area. Some posts will be coming forth-right about that adventure. Thanks for the comment. M 🙂
How is a visit arranged to see the horn Antenna?
Jeff: The antenna is located inconspicuously in an open area behind, and above the former Alcatel-Lucent building in Holmdel, NJ. (791 Holmdel Ave. zip 07733.) Drive into the driveway/roadway just before the SE side of that large complex and continue straight, through a fence in the back. There may be some signs of caution, even trespassing caution, but if the fence gate is open, you should have no problem continuing up the hill (Crawford Hill) and following to the left. The antenna is clearly visible there, off to the left and includes historic markers. There was no one around when we visited, and its seemingly undeveloped surrounds underscore the fact this historic place has never received the attention it deserves. More info can be found here: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/holmdel-horn-antenna
Good luck, M 🙂
Thanks M. I contacted folks from Nokia Labs just to make sure that it was OK to visit. I got the all clear and went to see the Horn Antenna and was very impressed. The view from the hill was great as well. I especially like seeing the old HO water tower in the distance. Jeff