Radio astronomy is one of the more cost-effective means of performing astronomy research—one possesses the ability to peer and understand astronomical processes at extreme precision. Research in radio astronomy is a field that is rich in discovery and affords the astronomer a diverse subject matter. With radio astronomy, the researcher is able to peer at details of black holes or gain an understanding in the formation of the molecules of life.

Radio astronomy was born in 1932 with Karl Jansky’s invention of the first radio telescope.

Fig. 1. Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI [URL SOURCE: Accessed 7/10/13] (Image description: “Karl Jansky, working at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel, NJ, in 1928, wanted to investigate using “short waves” (wavelengths of about 10-20 meters) for transatlantic radio telephone service. Jansky was assigned the job of investigating the sources of static that might interfere with radio voice transmissions. He built this antenna to receive radio waves at a frequency of 20.5 MHz (wavelength about 14.5 meters). It was mounted on a turntable that allowed it to rotate in any direction, earning it the name “Jansky’s merry-go-round”. By rotating the antenna, one could find what the direction was to any radio signal. Jansky used this antenna to identify radiation coming from the Milky Way that was strongest in the direction of the center of our Milky Way galaxy, in the constellation of Sagittarius.”)

One important reason for the usefulness of radio astronomy is the opacity of the atmosphere to radio waves and the ability to “see” the sky with unprecedented detail.

Fig. 2. Image via Wikicommons: Vectorized by User:Mysid in Inkscape, original NASA. [URL Source: Accessed 7/10/13] (“Image description: Electromagnetic transmittance, or opacity, of the Earth’s atmosphere.”)


Fig. 3 via Wikicommons

NASA/Hubble Space Telescope [URL Source: Accessed 7/10/13]

(Image description: “Messier 87 (M87), a giant elliptical galaxy in the Virgo Cluster as imaged in a wide field view from the HST.”)

Fig. 4 Image via Wikicommons. [URL Source: Accessed 7/10/13] (“Image description: English: A radio image of Messier 87 (M87), a giant elliptical galaxy in the Virgo Cluster by the Very Large Array (VLA), and an image of the center section by a Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) consisting of antennas in the US, Germany, Italy, Finland, Sweden and Spain. The jet of particles is suspected to be powered by a black hole in the center of the galaxy.”)

Original: Images are from and have been edited by uploader.

Credit: NASA, National Radio Astronomy Observatory/National Science Foundation, John Biretta (STScI/JHU), and Associated Universities, Inc.


Perhaps, most outstanding is the detailed discovery (assisted in large part by undergraduate students) of the building blocks of DNA.

Fig. 5 CREDIT: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF [URL Source: Accessed 7/10/13] (Source description: The Green Bank Telescope and some of the molecules it has discovered.)

(However, the current economic climate has forced the NSF to recommend “The Green Bank Telescope” [currently operational] be divested from.) Times being as they are, the astronomical community will feel the effects of shuttering radio telescopes like the GBT.



(behind a paywall):

The Astrophysical Journal Letters Volume 765 Number 1

Daniel P. Zaleski et al. 2013 ApJ 765 L10 doi:10.1088/2041-8205/765/1/L10



  1. Yen

    We actually briefly touched on this in an intro to astronomy class I took this last semester! Alot of the progress made in the pursuit of astronomical studies enabled the majority of biochemical studies in proteonomics!


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