[Cover of Sullivan's book 2009, Cosmic Noise]
Sullivan's Cosmic Noise, Cambridge University Press, 2009


NATIONAL RADIO ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORY ARCHIVES

Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III: Tapes Series

Interview with A.C. Bernard Lovell
At Grenoble, France
1 September 1976
Interview time: 1 hour 20 Minutes
Originally transcribed as typescript only by Bonnie Jacobs (1977), retyped to digitize by Candice Waller (2017)

Note: The interview listed below was originally transcribed as part of Sullivan's research for his book, Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2009). The original transcription was retyped to digitize in 2017, then reviewed, edited/corrected, and posted to the Web in 2017 by Ellen N. Bouton. Places where we are uncertain about what was said are indicated with parentheses and question mark (?).

We are grateful for the 2011 Herbert C. Pollock Award from Dudley Observatory which funded digitization of the original cassette tapes, and for a 2012 grant from American Institute of Physics, Center for the History of Physics, which funded the work of posting these interviews to the Web. Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event.

Click start to listen to the audio for tape 76A of the 1976 interview.

Begin Tape 76A

Sullivan

This is talking with Sir Bernard Lovell in Grenoble on 1st September 1976. What Iím interested in is, of course, the stuff that is not available in the published records. So if you could first just tell me about what your training was, and then how it was that you came in contact with radio astronomy, or what came to be called radio astronomy. It wasnít that at that time.

Lovell

Well, I think in order to save a long story, when the information is published, I might refer you to that.

Sullivan

Are you going to be publishing some more about - ?

Lovell

No, not at all. But essentially, the answer to that question is contained in the first chapters of my book, The Story of Jodrell Bank. And so perhaps as a brief comment you can fill out by referring to that. I was trained as physicist. I worked with Blackett on cosmic rays before the War and during the War I was concerned with radar development and had noticed the odd reflections on the radar screens of the Defense Radars. I discussed this with Blackett and we wrote a paper which was published in 1941.

Sullivan

I know that paper.

Lovell

That is really the key to the whole of this. It was agreed if we survived the War, we would, I would get some radar equipment. I say, these wasps are terrible Ė do you think we should go somewhere where we shanít get stung? We seem to be near a nest.

[interruption]

Lovell

Then after the War, I then took a lot of the radar equipment which I had designed which Iíd been working during the War. I had sufficiently high level connections in the defense community to arrange to take this away. We first of all, Blackett and I, set it up in the quadrangle in the main physics department at the University with the intention being to look for radar reflections from large cosmic ray showers. There was so much interference there that we eventually moved up to Jodrell Bank. Iím really repeating what has already been published about that.

Sullivan

Let me just ask you, there was no time during the War to follow-up these strange echoes.

Lovell

Not at all.

Sullivan

But your notion was that they were due to cosmic rays. Did you think at all about meteors at that stage?

Lovell

Not at all. I know absolutely nothing about meteors. In fact, one of the first things we did after the War when we discovered Ė I knew nothing about Heyís work or Schaferís work.

Sullivan

You never saw this report that Hey published?

Lovell

No, I did not see Heyís report. I was working in the Air Ministry and he was in the Army department.

Sullivan

I see. Most of the people Iíve talked to have seen that.

Lovell

Well, itís extremely unlikely they saw it before it was de-classified and published in a paper in 1946. I mean, who claims to have seen it during the War?

Sullivan

Well, letís see, Christiansen -

Lovell

Well, they may have, it depends on where they were working.

Sullivan

Mills, DickeÖ But, of course, memories can play tricks.

Lovell

Their memory must have played tricks. I donít think they - they couldnít possibly have seen it until after the War. It was a secret document which had not been de-classified, I think, until 1946.

Sullivan

What they said was that everyone was aware that there was this interference. Maybe they only heard it through the grapevine and didnít actually see the report.

Lovell

Yes.

Sullivan

But in any case, you were not aware of it?

Lovell

I wasnít aware of it. I was completely monopolized. Immediately after I wrote that paper with Blackett, the Blitz descended on us and then I think for 3 or 4 years everything was concentrated on that.

Sullivan

Let me ask -

Lovell

Incidentally, there is one other publication you might refer to which contains another reference to this. And that is my long memoir published in the Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society of November 1975 on Lord Blackett.

Sullivan

I made a note of that but havenít look at it yet.

Lovell

I do refer to this incident again there.

Sullivan

Various people have told me that working on radar during the War sort of set the style for how they worked after the War. Was this true with you? Was this a sort of valuable training ground?

Lovell

Undoubtedly. I think there were two very important factors in this. And incidentally, although Iím speaking from the point of view of an Englishman, I think at that time, compared with America and the rest of the world, we were very advanced, you see. So the situation may be different now. You now have to think back to the 1930s. There were two very important aspects of this. First of all, although I was working in a very advanced technological laboratory on cosmic rays with Blackett, the impact of the techniques in the Air Ministry establishment to which I was transferred absolutely astonished me. It was a different order of magnitude. A minor example, which I still remember, is we were still using soldering-irons heated in a bunson burner. And the other important factor was that one was completely removed from oneís isolation. One suddenly realized that dealing with people, one suddenly realized that the scientific problem was only a part of the real problem which one had to deal with when doing research. I remember Blackett writing to me, when I complained about bureaucracy in the beginning of the War, and Iíd been removed to a remote aerodrome, and he wrote back very sharply and said, ďYou will have to learn that the people with whom you have to deal present you with more than 80 percent of the technical problems.Ē It might have been an exaggeration. So I think both from those points, the impact of new techniques and new technology and also over the years of the War the tremendous experience one got in dealing with situations and people. As far as Iím concerned, Jodrell Bank would never have happened without that.

Sullivan

In the sense that you would not have known how to develop a group?

Lovell

I would not have had the contacts at high levels which was necessary to bring into existence a place like that. And neither would I have had the experience to do so. Creating an establishment like Jodrell Bank is not a technical (laughter), it is a matter of technique.

Sullivan

Like you say, the earlier meteor radar thing is documented quite well in your book. Although I should add that I think meteor radar astronomy is one thing Iím going to de-emphasize in my study since itís a bit apart from the rest of radio astronomy. Have you seen a thesis by this fellow named Nigel Gilbert in which he has done this whole thing, and so heís just really concentrated on one small area?

Lovell

No, Iíve not heard of it. I can understand it was your decision.

Sullivan

Please protest, if you wish.

Lovell

Well, I think in a proper historical study of the subject I would protest. Because if you take the place where we are now, IAU, thereís a great discussion about the future of Commission 40 Ė things move out of Commission 40. When we set up in the IAU, the first meeting of the Commissions was about half a dozen, perhaps a dozen Ė the same with URSI Ė the solar radio emissions, the radar observations, the meteors, the aurora Ė these performed the main part of our study. So one might well say in another ten years, the same attitude about solar physics, solar radio astronomy. However, thatís your problem.

Sullivan

No, I think your point is well taken. What youíre saying is that although it lapsed in the mid-50s and became a very minor part of -

Lovell

Well, we moved away from meteor astronomy when we cracked the main problems and when we got the big telescope in which we would have been wasting the facilities and the technical capability of our big telescopes in studying meteors.

Sullivan

But what youíre saying is at that time it was as big as radio sources or -

Lovell

Oh, bigger. We did solve one of the major problems of solar system astronomy. The meteors were a component of the solar system. It was the meteor studies by ourselves and also simultaneously by Millman and McKinley in Canada which removed this myth of hyperbolic orbits.

Sullivan

And how did this myth become established?

Lovell

The myth had become established through the work of Hoffmeister on fireballs and of ÷pik who observed in Arizona in the Harvard meteor program. Now you will find Ė itís hard to keep referring you to my own writings but to save a lot of repetition. You should also refer to my monograph on Meteor Astronomy.

Sullivan

Yes, in í54?

Lovell

It contains a full account of this situation.

Sullivan

I guess this could be said to be important with the origin of the solar system, cosmogony problems, would you say? Does it really bear on that or not?

Lovell

Yes, I think so. And, of course, our earlier association with Fred Whipple because our new work on the meteors it turned out to be extremely important.

Sullivan

With the flare stars?

Lovell

Well, that is the connection which still continues and led to many things, including eventually 20 years later my own researchs on the flare stars in collaboration with -

Sullivan

In fact, Iím going to talk with him later this afternoon. What Iím trying to get at is that everyone knows about the cosmology work that came out of the radio source counts, and so forth. Of course, weíre still arguing today whether or not itís still relevant to cosmology, but nonetheless, it was thought to be. This is not cosmology but this work definitely had a bearing on cosmogony well before that time.

Lovell

Yes, indeed.

Sullivan

At an URSI meeting, say in Sydney in í52, was meteor radar astronomy discussed as much as radio sources and all that cosmic background?

Lovell

I was not at the URSI meeting in í52.

Sullivan

Oh, I see.

Lovell

I was at the previous one in Zurich, I think, must have been in the late 1940s. And also in í57, the URSI meeting in Boulder. The subjects of meteor Ė radio meteors, shall we call them Ė and reflections from aurorae were still very prominent. In í57 we were just at the beginning of the International Geophysical Year. And I think still at that time it would not have been possible to make it with (?) separation of the radar studies.

Sullivan

Were the same people working on reflection from aurorae as reflection from meteor trails?

Lovell

Yes, I think in the first few years after the War, youíll find that I wrote papers. Some of my papers were on meteors and some were on aurorae.

Sullivan

I see; I didnít realize that.

Lovell

I canít remember exactly, but if you like I can send you a big list of our reprints at Jodrell.

Sullivan

I have that, actually.

Lovell

Oh, you do have that. I think if you look that up, youíll see that (?) I, myself, published papers on aurorae, and certainly meteors, and also on the sun.

Sullivan

So it seems like it was a great mixture of ionospheric and atmospheric physics and astronomy?

Lovell

Absolutely. But that didnít apply to all establishments. I think in the case of Cambridge they did not get into the transmitter game at all. So they were associated with the sun mostly.

Sullivan

In the very beginning, right. Of course they got in the ionospheric one when Cygnus was fluctuating and such. What did you consider yourself in the late 40s? If someone said, ďWhat do you do?Ē How do you pigeonhole yourself? What would you have answered?

Lovell

I think it is difficult to think back what I thought then. But the facts are that after the War, I returned as a Lecturer in physics in the University of Manchester. And I have remained in the physics department and am still in the physics department.

Sullivan

And is your Chair titled?

Lovell

No, I think Clegg and I, probably between our book, Radio Astronomy, I think we were possibly nearly the first people to use the term "radio astronomy." This was published in about 1947-48. I donít know whether youíve seen that.

Sullivan

Yes, I have a copy.

Lovell

Then, I think my own Chair, which Blackett created in his department, was certainly the first Chair of Radio Astronomy.

Sullivan

And what year was that?

Lovell

It was 1951-52. That is certainly true Ė that I think I occupied the first Chair of Radio Astronomy. But I was trained as a physicist. In this odd situation, you see, of never really having attended any sort of graduate or undergraduate lectures on astronomy, and yet one becomes an astronomer.

Sullivan

Someone had told me about lectures given by Kopal, sort of, weekly. I guess it was Hanbury-Browne. Did you used to attend those at Jodrell?

Lovell

Yes, but weíre moving on in history now. That was in the 1950s.

Sullivan

Early Ď50s, about?

Lovell

That was in the early Ď50s.

Sullivan

Iím just wondering how you acquired your astronomical education. Was it simply when something popped up, you had to go find a book on meteors, or something?

Lovell

Well, thatís an interesting question. And the answer is that we ran into the meteor phenomenon in a very big way because of the Giacobinids on October 10, 1946. And then it was discovered Ė the daytime meteor showers. We had, by that time, naturally searched for people in England who knew about meteors. And the strange answer was that they were mostly, almost entirely, amateurs, the British Amateur Astronomical Society. The man who educated me a great deal about meteors was, in fact a Solicitor, Prentice, whose name youíll find there. This was a marvelous training Ė if youíre an observer of visual meteors you know a hell of a lot about the sky. (laughter) And that is really how we got off on the matter of astronomy Ė in the best possibly way, I think.

Sullivan

You might well have been one of the only early radio astronomers who knew the constellations and such for that reason.

Lovell

I learned most of my astronomy sitting out in a deck chair in the depths of the night by the side of Prentice, yes. And it is true that KopalÖ When Blackett realized that we were on to a good thing, he had a great interest in cosmology and the future and so on. And he realized, although we were grasping the elements of astronomy, that we could still be subject to criticism because we were not professional astronomers. Therefore, he persuaded the University to create this Chair of Theoretical Astronomy, as well as Radio Astronomy. That is how Kopal came to us.

Sullivan

That was the same year as your Chair?

Lovell

It was the same year. Kopal came out and gave his regular lectures. My memory is that most of my fundamental astronomy, constellations or orbits, all that sort of thing, was learned the hard way.

Sullivan

Let me ask about the influence of Blackett. It seems he must have been rather important in terms of someone looking at the group. You never see Blackettís name or anything, but that he must have always been in the background giving great support. Is that a fair assessment?

Lovell

Oh, absolutely true. I think if you havenít got a copy of my memoir, I think I must send it to you because he was a Ė this is a small book, by the way.

Sullivan

Oh, I see, a small book!

Lovell

Oh, yes. Published by the Royal Society. It was published originally in the Memoirs, but it has been reissued as a small book.

Sullivan

Oh yes, Iíd very much like to have one.

Lovell

Itís about 70-80 thousand words or something. Iíll make a note and send you that because you will see from that what an immense influence Blackett was. Not only on me, but also on the rest of his staff. People like Runcorn, for example, whoís known for geomagnetism and geological studies as well as nuclear physics. You havenít got a copy?

Sullivan

No, I remember making a note that Iíve seen it referred to.

Lovell

Where should I send it?

Sullivan

Well, Iím in the IAU Directory, W.T. Sullivan.

Lovell

But you wrote to me from Groningen.

Sullivan

Oh yes, but I was just there for the summer.

Lovell

So you want the USA address.

Sullivan

Yes, Department of Astronomy, University of Washington, Seattle Washington.

Lovell

Well I hope my stuff from Groningen will be sent on because youíll find things there which will be very helpful to you, I think.

Sullivan

Oh yes certainly.

Sullivan

You talk in this memoir explicitly about how Blackettís influence - ?

Lovell

Yes, you have asked about his influence and I think in the context of the immense expansion of physics in Manchester after the War, you will find this very clearly there.

Sullivan

Now what about his influence in terms of, for instance, in getting funding for the big dish? Was he important in this also? Or were you going out battling?

Lovell

No, not at all. That is described in detail in the Story of Jodrell Bank. He was extremely important there.

Sullivan

Let me ask about the whole meteor radar thing. One sees reports and there are even suggestions in the literature back in the early Ď30s that meteor trails may give off radar scattering. Hold it, Iím getting mixed up. In the early Ď30s Skellett and others -

Lovell

Schafer and Skellett.

Sullivan

Right, but they were not talking about radar echoes, I donít think.

Lovell

Yes, they were.

Sullivan

They were? Even at that stage?

Lovell

Yes, very much so. If you want the history of that, you will find it in an account in about 1947-48. We had a symposium in Manchester under the aegis of the Physical Society. I think I may be able to send you a reference to that, because this is really also very important. Appleton, for example, when he learned what we were doing, he was a great man for establishing his own priorities, and he claimed that theyíd done all these observations, both of the meteors and the aurorae in the first, second International Geophysical Year, 1931-32, I think.

Sullivan

And, of course, he also went back and tried to claim priority on the solar bursts.

Lovell

Thatís right.

Sullivan

Saying the amateurs had written in, and this sort of thing.

Lovell

Would you like me to send you that?

Sullivan

Yes, please. Iím not familiar with that. This was a meeting on Meteor Astronomy?

Lovell

I canít quite remember whether itís there or whether itís a special article I wrote for Reports on Progress in Physics. I think itís a special article I wrote for Reports on Progress in Physics which gives all this early history.

Sullivan

I see. Weíve talked about meteor radar astronomy, but how was it that other sorts developed? Why did Jodrell not confine itself only to pursuing this?

Lovell

I think one of our first papers was on the great solar outbursts of July 1946. It was just one of these streams of accidents. Weíd take the gear and begin to build arrays for cosmic ray showers. You soon discovered, particularly because of the accident of the great Giacobinids shower, and then you can convince everybody that this is the case, that the radio arrays were not for cosmic ray showers, but meteors, and then in the middle of all this, oneís equipment is completely obliterated by this enormous solar outburst. By that time, we had built this great big dish which looked into the zenith. We were then already seeing the variation in the noise level in the galactic plane pass through the telescope. So this is how the situation developed. Then, of course, we had very close contact with Ryle. This is one of the things which people did find very difficult to understand. I think they still do Ė that Ryle and I were old friends. We were never in any sense competitive in a bad sense. I think this was difficult for many people to understand. Because the whole strength of radio astronomy in Great Britain has depended very critically on the correlation between Ryle and myself. I mean, if I and Ryle at any time in the last 30 years had put a foot wrong, or had been obviously in competition, then the administrations would immediately see this as an excuse to close the whole shop. Thatís in passing. You ask how we got into these arguments. Well, just like that.

Sullivan

So what youíre saying is the equipment just led you on from one thing to another?

Lovell

Absolutely. And then, you see, the equipment only led you on and then by this time also the designs, we wanted a big steerable telescope. Although we did some meteor work with the big telescope, although, not very much.

Sullivan

Were you thinking that as an important component when you first thought of the - ?

Lovell

Yes, when I made the proposal for the 250ft. dish -

Sullivan

When was that first?

Lovell

1947.

Sullivan

Oh, I see. You certainly would have been.

Lovell

I wrote what became known as the ďblue book,Ē which is referred to in my Story of Jodrell Bank, which I listed there all the things the big dish could do, everything Ė solar corpuscular streams, gegenschein. I was interested to hear, talking to Whipple about this, that there is now fairly definite proof that the gegenschein is a reflection phenomenon associated with the zodiacal light and not the (?) But this was one of the cases that I had put down as a possibility for use with the big dish.

Sullivan

How long is the document? Iíd be very interested to see that.

Lovell

Well, itís quite a short document compared to the sort of proposal one has to put forth nowadays. To get a thousand pounds, it was remarkably short.

Sullivan

Could you possibly send me a copy of that?

Lovell

I could send you a copy Ė it was never published.

Sullivan

Well, thatís what makes it valuable. There must have been many subsequent proposals as the idea developed.

Lovell

Yes.

Sullivan

What was the proposal for? How big a thing and was it fully steerable?

Lovell

Oh yes. That was the proposal on which we got permission to go ahead. But the sequence of those events is set out fairly precisely in my book. You wouldnít have remembered it, but when you come to write about that period, youíll find it.

Sullivan

No, no Ė I know that. But let me ask, as it took 10 years after that before the dish actually went on the air, during that time, did you begin to see that meteor radar astronomy had run its course, more or less?

Lovell

Yes.

Sullivan

When did you begin to recognize that?

Lovell

I think when J.G. Davies had devised the three-station method for the measurement of all the individual meteors. We cracked the method of measuring velocity and so on, and of meteor distribution. It then seemed, I think, apparent to a lot of us that the main issues then before meteor astronomy had been cracked, and one could go on and get heaps and heaps of Ph.D.ís out of it, but it would be rather a matter of cataloguing and had the potentialities of what our steerable dish could do in other aspects of the subject in which it has done. Of course, you must remember we were doing meteors not only for the astronomical aspects, but also as a tool to study the atmosphere. I mean a lot of the Jodrell work on meteors is concerned with the physics of the upper atmosphere, winds and that sort of thing. You say youíve got our -

Sullivan

Yes, I have that list of Jodrell papers, which is very useful because it has many popular articles written by you especially.

Lovell

Yes, in the early days we put them in -

Sullivan

Things on discovery and this sort of thing.

Lovell

Incidentally if you canít find any of those I have got a reserve, a strategic reserve, so to speak. I could lend you some of those early articles.

Sullivan

Well I certainly am. Anything before -

Lovell

Well, you must write to me.

Sullivan

Before 1952.

Lovell

Well I could lend them to you, but donít ask me to send you the whole lot.

Sullivan

No.

End Tape 76A

Click start to listen to the audio for tape 76B of the 1976 interview.

Begin Tape 76B

Sullivan

This is continuing with Sir Bernard Lovell on 1st September 1976. I wanted to ask you, when was the date of the three-station method and so forth? The question I asked you was when did you become aware, and you never actually gave a date that the meteor radar had more or less run its course.

Lovell

I canít remember the date exactly, but youíll find this in the literature. I think it was in the early 1950ís. The papers may not have been published, I donít believe all the work ever was published. Incidentally, some of those problems raised by Daviesí work is still unsolved.

Sullivan

Really?

Lovell

Why, the short period orbits of meteors are distributed in a very off way around the ecliptic. Theyíre bunched at angles Ė about 60°. I was asking Whipple the other day, and he says thereís no solution to it.

Sullivan

So what did you see then as being the new areas in which the big dish could really contribute?

Lovell

I think by the time it came in use in 1957 we were Ė the situation had moved to such an extent that we, even at that time, regarded its main use as the study of galactic and extragalactic emissions. Although, of course, they were only at that time just beginning to be realized as extragalactic. We felt that other uses proposed for it began to assume a rather minor role. Although you must remember that the particular way in which the big dish came into use was quite unusual, in that it was associated with the carrier rocket of Sputnik.

Sullivan

What do you mean the way it came into operation?

Lovell

Ah, because the first thing we used it for was for something for which had never been intended, the tracking of the Sputnik. This may not have been considered very important scientifically, but it as of immense importance politically. If you read the story, youíll find that it kept me out of prison, in the end, it was that one factor. After all, for a short time, it was the only telescope, radar instrument in the world which had this capability.

Sullivan

So that youíre quite convinced that this put a good light on Jodrell Bank? It would have been hard to do otherwise?

Lovell

Absolutely, it would have been impossible. The antipathy, public and private, to me and to what was commonly regarded as the mess Iíd made of building the telescope, was minor over expenditure, which was being used as a political weapon to gain control of the University. Suddenly, overnight, for reason for which I never understood Ė nevertheless it happened, the public interest was so immense that this antipathy just switched. The impact was colossal. We have enormous press conferences two or three times a day. And suddenly the government found itself faced with this. (laughter) The point is there was no solution, but to determine a solution had to be found. And the solution to these appalling difficulties was found. Certainly, what a wonderful moment it must have been when the dish began to work. On the contrary, it was the moment when I wished, I think more than any other time, that the earth would open and swallow me. Because there was this irony of having produced this instrument which was doing far more than we ever thought it would do, and yet faced all these problems. Iím glad to say I did take the trouble to document that. So the dates and so on are all there for you to read. The relevance is this gave us a continuity of interests in using the instrument as a radar device, as well as Ö So we then did quite a lot of radar work on the moon. Very important work, youíll find. And on the planets. Of course, on our planetary radar, we soon we began to miss out in the face of the Americans because the Americans were able to put immense money into their transmitters.

Sullivan

Computing power perhaps also?

Lovell

Not so much computing power at that time. I didnít always have the (?) on the computer situation. But certainly expensive transmitters. It was very odd because the ability to send spacecraft to the planets made it necessary to settle the problem of the solar parallax. And this meant that both the Russians and the Americans simply had to do the radar work. So there was this outside impetus which pushed them into doing this. And we realized, I think pretty soon, that we were just there at the time of determination of the solar parallax and the rotation of Venus. But then it was no good going on.

Sullivan

So are you saying that in the mid-50ís that radar was not part of the program intended for the big dish?

Lovell

Oh, yes, it sure was. Oh, very much so.

Sullivan

Oh, it was?

Lovell

Yes.

Sullivan

Sputnik just gave it a tremendous boost?

Lovell

Sputnik gave it a tremendous boost. Yes, and Iíll just give you a reason why Sputnik gave this additional boost to the continuity of our radar interests, and there are many, many publications in the first ten years of the use of the telescope in which you will find it uses the radar.

Sullivan

Oh, that I know, but what I was trying to get at, in the mid-50s were you intending to use it as a radar?

Lovell

Oh, yes. I must send you the ďblue bookĒ because that was our bible, so to speak, on the things we were going to do. Youíll find it very elementary now, the thing was written 30 years ago.

Sullivan

Was it the excitement and the importance of the Sputnik to you personally and to Jodrell Bank scientifically that really got you into the whole space business? You know, where you began to track other space objects and get pictures from the moon before the Russians did, and this sort of thing. Was this what got you there? What was your philosophy in going in that direction?

Lovell

It is really awfully difficult now to give more facts than those I have already published. But there is one comment I would make. It is that long before there was any talk of Sputnik (and I think you will find this in the ďblue bookĒ which I am going to send you), there was a proposal that we would use the telescope in conjunction with Vanguard to do ionospheric work in relation to the moon. I think that was published, but I used to talk to Hagen about this and therefore the possibility of earth satellites in relation to use of the telescope was certainly envisaged by me long before the announcement of the Sputnik. And what was your other question?

Sullivan

I was just wondering -

Lovell

Well, the other thing, of course -

Sullivan

Youíve been very much into space, assigned space shots -

Lovell

The history of that, you will also find, was very important because the Americans, before NASA was created, when the United States Air Force were the launching agency concerned with this, they enlisted our assistance in tracking their first Pioneer spacecraft, this new series of Pioneers is another matter, but the original Pioneers, one to five or something like that, we were the main tracking station. American had no big telescope. So thatís how we became very deeply involved.

Sullivan

Right, but itís a possible scenario that you would have said, ďNo, we do radio astronomy research here - Ē

Lovell

Iím not the sort of person to ask that. I had too much feeling for the importance of this space work. Another person, another director, could have done, but he would have been extremely foolish in my view. It never entered my head that I would not do my best to collaborate. And then similar with the Russians. I mean, the Russians also sought our assistance. Our passage with the Russians have been sometimes smooth and sometimes rough, but weíve always Ė Iím a great believer in international collaboration and Iíve always done my best to collaborate. We responded to their request and whenever weíve been able to help Ė the Venus spacecraft, for example Ė and still do so.

Sullivan

When you say, Ďthe importance of the space work,í are you thinking of the scientific results gained or just the adventure of man leaving earth, or at least his instruments, at first.

Lovell

Both, of course. But after the beginning we were primarily concerned of the scientific results. Itís difficult now, I donít know how old you are, but probably very considerably younger than I am. Astronomy 30 years ago was a very much more localized subject than it is today. This makes it very difficult for me in a place like this. There are many place I feel I ought to be. One just had this opportunity, people in my age group, especially in the year after World War II, when the possibilities of solution of the major cosmological and cosmogonic problems seem to be so immense, weíd do our best to support any of these activities.

Sullivan

So what youíre saying this gave you a breadth of outlook such that even in the late Ď50s when space science came along, that you would be willing to go into it and not feel yourself confined?

Lovell

Oh, yes, we did. At Jodrell Bank Ė and, in fact, we still have a group who do experiments with space vehicles. But, of course, more and more, particularly with the financial problems descending on us like everybody else, one has had to concentrate oneís manpower on the use of the major observation of facilities which one has. But this did not apply in the early history that weíre talking about. Late 1950-1960 especially.

Sullivan

I donít quite follow what you say. What would you like to do if you had more money now that you were unable to do in the past?

Lovell

Well, I think eventually a lot of our things became conditioned by lack of money. After all, weíve just failed Ė weíve spent 15 years reaching a complete design of this major telescope which weíve now had to abandon, the Mark V. And given more money, we would have probably equipped our telescope with bigger and bigger transmitters and kept in the planetary game.

Sullivan

So what youíre saying is you have to draw in your ranks and concentrate in one area.

Lovell

Yes. You achieve a series of major instruments and you cannot leave those instruments idle.

Sullivan

I see what youíre saying. Whereas before you could just drop it and go to a new one.

Lovell

Yes.

Sullivan

Yes, that is a big difference, indeed. What about the whole question of the relationship to optical astronomy? Itís rather interesting to me. Weíve already talked about the close relation with the meteor astronomers, usually amateur. But in a more general sense, in all of radio astronomy through the 50ís, when do you think that radio astronomers really began to feel themselves as astronomers more than radio physicists?

Lovell

Oh, very, very quickly, I think. We had a series of symposia, or colloquia as you call it now, at Jodrell Bank and I think the first Russian astronomers to come out of the Soviet Union in the late 1940s were those who came to a meeting supposedly in Jodrell Bank. And then we had the next year a ďcosmic noiseĒ symposium. So I think very quickly after the War we were integrated with the optical astronomers.

Sullivan

But you were saying there were a lot of optical astronomers at these meetings?

Lovell

Oh yes. Most of them came. And then, you see, we had the fortunate coincidence of the meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Dublin in middle 1950. By that time, certainly by the early 1950s, we knew and we were known to the major optical astronomers in the world. And they had come to us, to our colloquia and so on. Those days I used to keep a visitorís book, and itís most astonishing to go back through and see how often Minkowski and Baade and people like that came through.

Sullivan

But were they now more the exceptions, though? I mean one can nameÖ was it the average optical astronomer you think just as interested in going to hear a paper, if he had the choice of the IAU in Dublin, on radio astronomy as he would on proper motions?

Lovell

Well, I think youíve got to remember that radio astronomy by the early 1950s was beginning to hit the astronomical headlines so to speak and therefore astronomers were beginning to feel, to find out what it was all about. I think this might well have been the factor which led them to come. Whatever the reason, the answer to your question is, that, in my opinion, we achieved a very early integration with the optical fraternity. And, of course, in London we were immediately absorbed by the Royal Astronomical Society.

Sullivan

Michel Overden was just telling me that McCrea had a large part to do with that, actively encouraging people to come in.

Lovell

Yes.

Sullivan

Iíve heard many people, though, disagree with that point of view. They say it wasnít until late Ď50s that optical astronomers did much more than take some interest in the results, but never really try and get involved.

Lovell

It depends upon what you mean by optical.

Sullivan

As a whole.

Lovell

Optical astronomers to me, those that really mattered, were those that had control of the major instruments. If I mention Baade, Minkowski, Ambartsumian, there are three names with whom we had the very earliest contacts and maintained great friendship. After all, in 1957 I was one of the participants in the Solvay Conference on the structure of the Universe. And there was another one, a year or so later, which I think Bolton was there at that time. So that indicates integration.

Sullivan

Yes, thatís true.

Lovell

But, of course, in my own case I was perhaps also fortunate in having been trained as a physicist and perhaps knowing, not now I donít, but at that time I was still giving lectures on nuclear physics. Please donít think that Iím claiming any modern nuclear physics, but in those important days I did, and therefore I had contacts. Or already had existing contacts with people like Oppenheimer and so on. And then at the same time began to make these friendships with Minkowksi and Baade.

Sullivan

Were you involved at all in the application of nuclear physics to stellar astrophysics?

Lovell

In what way?

Sullivan

In terms of taking an active interest in meetings, going to talks, that sort of thing.

Lovell

Well, not at that time, you see, because the study of individual stars by radio telescope did not (?) possibilities they do now.

Sullivan

No, but still there were theorists who were working on stellar interiors. Thatís what I was trying to get at. Was that an interest of yours also?

Lovell

Those who were working on stellar interiors at that time, Hoyle and Burbidges -

Sullivan

Yes, and Schwarzchild -

Lovell

Were certainly closely associated. After all they were all in England. Burbidges at that time were research fellows in England.

Sullivan

Let me ask about the whole Ė you mentioned your cooperation with Ryle in terms of financing for telescopes, that it would be foolish for you -

Lovell

Yes, of course we did also collaborate experimentally, too.

Sullivan

This is what I was going to ask. Thereís a notable case of the ionospheric scintillations in which you published together. Can you think of other incidences? It seems to me that you more tried to be complementary to each other. Is this true?

Lovell

Yes, that is true. I canít immediately think of any other joint work, although we did for some time have quite a major array of Ryleís at Jodrell Bank for some experiments in which observations which one of his group was doing. I canít remember the details of that. If it was connected with scintillation or not.

Sullivan

Was this complementarity, was this a thing that developed very naturally? Would you say just because of the interests in philosophy that you and Martin Ryle have? Or was it a planned thing that you sat down, and you both had some interests, but you said, ďWell, you take that and Iíll take this?Ē

Lovell

I think we were together in the War and therefore we knew one another pretty well. We were in the same establishment. After the War I think we were old enough to realize that (?) I canít speak for Ryle, but itís a philosophy which I very early absorbed from Blackett, that getting money for astronomy or run an experiment, you handled the situation pretty carefully. And the last thing to do is to set yourself up in competition with another national, so to speak. Whether that situation will continue, I do not know. I detect in recent years different attitudes among staff, the young people.

Sullivan

In Great Britain?

Lovell

Well, today I think there is a stronger feeling of competition, which is perhaps understandable.

Sullivan

Let me ask about the flare star business because this is of course very important in the history of radio astronomy. How did this come about that you got interested in flare stars?

Lovell

Oh, yes, well I can answer that one. I think Iíve published the story but not in any book that youíve got. The answer of course, is that in 1957, just as our telescope was about to come into use, in August 1957, we had a joint symposium on radio astronomy in Paris.

Sullivan

í58.

Lovell

Oh, í58 was it, yes. Yes, youíre right. At that symposium you will find in there a paper by Schatzman on the possibility of detecting radio emission from certain stars. The telescope by that time was going and I was looking for a new subject which I might do. It is as simple as that. Thatís how it began and following, having heard this paper of Schatzmanís, I decided that I could afford to, if necessary, waste a small percentage of time on the telescope on doing experiments which might come up. But there again, you see this is what is now called a philosophy of oneís attitude of mind about these things. And quite frankly, Iím the sort of chap who gets rather disinterested in things as soon as heaps and heaps of other people are working on them. I begin to lose interest. It gets too complicated. I like things that are new. I wanted to start on something new. Well, I was old enough and in the fortunate position that if I wasted 5 or 10 years of my time that I could devote to research and two dozen hours of the telescope it would never matter. Iíve always tried to keep the Jodrell Bank instrumentation of work always on the number of problems that wonít necessarily yield results. Soon as you go on making endless sky surveys, using up year after year of time, endless spectra and all that sort of thing, you just die. So that is a general attitude of mine and the circumstances which led to my work on the flare stars.

Sullivan

Iíd be interested to know if you had the notion, what was your predilection towards what all these radio stars, as they were called, really were? Were you really trying to go back and maybe see if they really were stars?

Lovell

No, not at that time.

Sullivan

There had been 20 or 30 identifications with most galaxies by that time. But it still wasnít clear what all these things were, I donít think. Ryle had the Bakerian Lecture in which he argued very strongly that -

Lovell

Well, Ryle, yes. He argued that they were -

Sullivan

Extragalactic, in í58, this is now.

Lovell

In 58í he did a complete turnaround.

Sullivan

With the 2C survey.

Lovell

Yes, I know. Well, yes, of course, I remember a bitter conflict in the RAS in London a year or so before that, Iím not sure exactly which a violent argument between Gold, Hoyle, and Ryle.

Sullivan

Yes, itís in the Observatory. What Iím trying to get at is was this flare star thing at all to do with the general problem of the radio sources or were you just - ?

Lovell

No. I had accepted it by that time. (?) the possibility of studying the stars in the same way you wanted to study the sun. This turned out to be very difficult.

Sullivan

Well, but nevertheless, it is proceeding you know with interferometers. Of course Hanbury-Brown has also been doing (?).

Lovell

Well, of course, the Hanbury-Brown development was another matter altogether.

Sullivan

What Iím saying is that Ė yes, Iíve talked to him at this meeting, as a matter of fact. What youíre saying is this is another aspect where you can study more than just the integrated properties of the stars. You can look at some details.

Lovell

Yes. Itís taken a long time to get going, but itís difficult. Itís marginally possible with present techniques, or was. But now we -

Sullivan

Can you tell me how you set up the collaboration to the simultaneous optical monitoring and such, how that developed in these first discovery bursts?

Lovell

This came about because of my friendship with Fred Whipple, which itself arose from meteor phenomenon. I cannot remember the exact date but Iíll send you a paper in which that appears. After the Schatzman paper, I started using the telescope for things like I could (?) and looking at one of these stars. And I recorded what happened, I got some results which could possibly have been bursts from the stars, but there was no good publishing it because nobody would believe unless there was a correlation. And at that time, it must have been one of the occasions when I showed these results to Whipple and he said, ďLook here Iíve just got this Smithsonian camera network, satellite tracking network, we could do this by collaboration.Ē So he got Len Solomon onto this. Thatís how it all began, and after about a year we were unfortunate in not getting any big individual flares, but we got enough small ones to make it quite certain that emissions occurred. We published this paper. (?) I think that is a joint paper by myself and Whipple.

Sullivan

Yes, exactly, in í64, I think it was.

Lovell

And then when I went to the Soviet Union in í61 (?) I think when Massevitch came over, when they asked us if they could use the telescope. But there had been this program in í61 I think at that time she said that Soviet astronomers were very, very interested in individual stars, and she was herself. When I went there in í63, this was one of the important subjects of discussion. And this set up an extremely valuable collaboration with Ambartsumian and particularly with Chugainov. It still goes on. Because he had marvelous recordings. Itís rather interesting, it was as far as I recall the first person, the only person at that time who was recording these flares and getting the curve coming on a piece of paper, whereas the Solomon-Whipple thing was, of course, photographs taken every 30 seconds, or something.

Sullivan

I see. The first one to do it photoelectrically, essentially?

Lovell

I think he was the first one to do it photoelectrically. Or at least he was the first one that I knew and collaborated with.

Sullivan

You mentioned how the Schatzman paper influenced you. I conducted a telephone interview with Unsöld just a month ago, unfortunately I couldnít see him personally, and he said he gave a talk at the 1955 Manchester Symposium, and he was very vague, you may remember, on the radio stars being stars and they were a strange sort.

Lovell

Yes, quite.

Sullivan

And he says that he had the idea that he put this in your mind that they might well have big flares, these strange M-dwarfs or sub M-dwarfs that he was talking about. Do you have any recollection of this?

Lovell

I remember Unsöldís paper, but my memory is that it was very distinctly that it was the actual Schatzman paper. Schatzman actually did the elementary calculations which showed that it should be possible. I mean they were order of magnitudes wrong, those calculations.

Sullivan

In any case, before Schatzmanís paper you were not going along saying, ďWhen the dish gets on the air Iím going to do this.Ē

Lovell

No, not at all. In fact, I think flare stars is one of the things, Iím not sure about this, you will not find in the blue book.

Sullivan

I wouldnít think so. That would be rather prescient if you did.

Lovell

Iím not speaking against Unsöld in any way. Iíve answered your question as to which particular situation led me to flare stars.

Sullivan

Yeah, I get one story from one person and another from another.

Lovell

Iím pretty certain that was Schatzman. In fact, I know it was. I donít have to think back all that long because I wrote this up fairly soon afterwards I think. There was probably a popular article about that time. Iíve made a note and Iíll look this up.

Sullivan

Ok, great.

Lovell

So I donít have to remember back 30 years. I think I had written this up when I was remembering back only a few years. Incidentally, about the flare stars (?) but this last Fall we have at last got clearance for metric records.

Sullivan

Interferometric records Ė Oh, I hadnít heard that.

Lovell

Yes, Gibson and I collaborated, and got the computer system going and has isolated nine flares from radio records only. We were rather pleased about this because for over a period occurring before these we had optical coverage and there were the optical flares. So weíre thrilled. But one must do that. I think only now after all these years are we really getting in a position of opening up this subject.

Sullivan

Did you realize that almost 20 years later youíd still be working on these flare stars when you began? You said that when you began that you realized that it might be a long period of nothing.

Lovell

Well, no Iíve done a lot of other things in those years.

Sullivan

No, Iím not trying to imply that you were continuously working on them.

Lovell

No, quite.

Sullivan

These meetings in the late Ď40s, you said every year you had a symposium on a subject. Were the proceedings ever written up in any form?

Lovell

Yes, I think there were two successive years which were particularly critical, which was the first time the Russians began to come out. The first one was on meteors, aurorae, and I think, of the planets, and the second one was on what we then called cosmic noise.

Sullivan

And were they written up in any form, the proceedings of these meetings?

Lovell

Iím pretty certain they were. Iíll check again.

Sullivan

I know about the í53 meeting on radio astronomy and there was í54 one on meteors and of course, the í55 symposium. But I havenít heard about these. So Iíd be surprised if they were in the normal literature. Ok, looking more generally at the development of radio astronomy, especially up to the early 1960ís, what do you think has been its main influence on astronomy, its main contributions to the field?

Lovell

Thatís a tough question to answer, isnít it?

Sullivan

Not in 25 words or less.

Lovell

Youíre specifying the time interval?

Sullivan

Well, my study is ending in the early 60ís and so Iím particularly interested before then. But if you want to talk about since then, thatís fine.

Lovell

Oh, I didnít realize that.

Sullivan

Well, it just gets out of hand if I try to go beyond that. When (?) begins entering the field itís all over.

Lovell

Well, weíve dealt with the meteors, so you donít want to discuss that. There was a clear situation there where the studies revealed the existence of the day-time meteor streams and settled the velocity problem. This is important from the cosmogonic point of view. The next thing one would say is the immense clarification introduced into solar physics from the sun. I mean, nowadays, itís easy to overlook that, but this was dramatic.

Sullivan

What do you mean in particular?

Lovell

An entirely new understanding about the solar atmosphere, about the temperature of the solar atmosphere, corona, and the sunspots and flares and their relation to radio emission. That was an enormous stimulation at this time, of interest. After all it was D. F. Martyn, I think, who very quickly gave an elegant solution of the origin of radio emission from the quiet sun.

Sullivan

Ginzburg did also, by the way, in í46.

Lovell

Yes. And then, of course, a classic case in 1960, the discovery of the nature of radio emission from the Milky Way, to which I think Shklovsky must take an enormous amount of credit.

Sullivan

Are you talking about the hydrogen line?

Lovell

No.

Sullivan

Oh, you mean the cosmic ray synchrotron, Iím sorry.

Lovell

Iím talking about the synchrotron emission, and also his explanation of the spectrum of background radiation in terms of both the synchrotron radiation and combination synchrotron and free-free transitions. Then, as you correctly said, the hydrogen line discoveries had a major impact, particularly on understanding of the Galaxy. Then the investigation of the extragalactic radio sources. By 1960 you have set yourself a line, 1960 before quasars were recognized as such.

Sullivan

Well, Iím willing to go over to interesting things like that.

Lovell

You will find my own opinion of the situation which led to the discovery of quasars in my book Out of the Zenith, so you will find the Jodrell in that. I find it difficult now Ė itís pretty all-embracing what Iíve said.

Sullivan

I donít remember what the Jodrell view is. Could you summarize?

Lovell

Well, simply the angular diameter measurements which revealed the possible existence of sources more distant than the source in Bootes, which had a redshift of -

Sullivan

3C 295, you mean?

Lovell

Yes, with redshift 0.4 and this was the work of Palmer and colleagues.

Sullivan

You mean the inference that if they were so small and if they were -

Lovell

Further away. And there was a search for these combined with the positional measurements at that time made in Cambridge. It was (?)

Sullivan

Well, of course Hazardís observation also was -

Lovell

Hazardís observation came later. Thatís after he left us. His observations in Sydney Ė that was a much later event in this story, 1962.

Sullivan

Yes, í62, but itís my understanding that this was rather important.

Lovell

It was, but the important element of the story had a prehistory to that. The past observations which led to the investigation revealing the existence of the blue stellar objects, which were thought to be stars, were the angular diameter measurements which showed that there were sources probably more distant than the 295 source.

Sullivan

I see what youíre saying.

Lovell

As you will know from your knowledge of the literature, for a year or more these were believed to be within the Milky Way.

Sullivan

Oh, yes, trying to figure out the spectra of the stars and -

Lovell

It was then Hazardís occultation measurement, I agree, which was very important in stimulating the -

Sullivan

I see what youíre saying. Just for yourself personally, did you feel that when these stellar-like objects began popping up, that gee, maybe it was back to radio stars?

Lovell

I was really rather excited about it because I thought from a different point of view. A very odd reason. Iíd never really had much feelings in number counts. I felt they were dealing with such a heterogeneous population that they might well have produced a great answer, but if they hadnít done it was very lucky by accident. The discovery of the blue stellar objects, whatever they were, excited me very much because it seemed to be Ė you know you had these private feelings, hunches, conclusions which were presented as being absolute (?) It demonstrated the enormous heterogeneity of the population which was (?) of which we were dealing.

[brief interruption]

Lovell

I always had a lot of sympathy for Hoyle, Gold, in these arguments. I was never convinced about the evolutionary universe until the discovery of the microwave blackbody radiation, which I think like everybody else, I found convincing. But thatís another story.

Sullivan

Well, the microwave background is í63 or so.

Lovell

Oh, microwave background was much later than that, í65.

Sullivan

Youíre right, it was í65.

Lovell

And even then, you see, there was a period of a few years of doubt until the turnover. But this is really beyond your study.

Sullivan

But I am interested in your comments on the fact that this heterogeneous population made you rather dubious about the validity of the whole log-n/log-s thing. Because the Cambridge people, of course, argued strongly that this didnít matter.

Lovell

Oh, I know. But then Iím always very uneasy about the application of statistical theory to prove a point. There are so many examples that Iíve been associated with. The most famous of all, in which I was very much associated with, weíve been talking about, is the meteor thing where Öpik by the application of statistics which seemed to be inviolate which Iíve recounted in my monograph on meteor astronomy had proved that meteors were hyperbolic. And he was wrong, they were not. But as soon as one did an actual measurement of them they were found not to be.

Sullivan

You sort of have this as an operating principle?

Lovell

I mean, whether you like it or not, I dislike very much drawing conclusions from one or two, what people call now one or two sigmas.

Sullivan

Iíve heard many other people say that. That if you have to make a statistical argument to prove it, then youíre reaching.

Lovell

Oh, I understand. Iím a great admirer of the Cambridge work, but I always had a personal reserve about the conclusions.

Sullivan

As you began working in the late Ď40s you, of course, became aware of the Australian work which Ė they didnít get into meteor radar, so that was not soÖ when did you first really get into the same sort of field as they were doing?

Lovell

Well, we were injected into this straightaway, 1946 when I was working on the sun.

Sullivan

Right, but that lapsed after just looking at a couple of bursts, didnít it?

Lovell

Yes. I canít remember the dates now, but as soon as we got the transit telescope going we were using this for Ė after all it was used by Hanbury Brown and Hazard. What was the date of their M31?

Sullivan

í51.

Lovell

Yes, you see it was a very short interval there.

Sullivan

So in other words when you began to get into source work -

Lovell

Almost immediately.

Sullivan

Only then did you really come into a sort of scientific contact, shall we say, with the Australians?

Lovell

No, I think that is not correct because Ė itís amazing how personal contacts and friendships come into this. Taffy Bowen Ė I was in his group during the beginning of the War. So we knew one another very well, indeed. And Pawsey also. Pawsey was a frequent visitor to us. Now I donít remember when Pawsey first came to Manchester and Jodrell, but I think it was in the late 1940ís. I think our contacts there were very early. I mean this is in the literature, thereís no need for me to remember that here. I think it was in the late Ď40s.

Sullivan

Another general question that Iíve been asking people is itís very curious to me why American radio astronomy did not take off like British and Australian radio astronomy did after the War. You had the Radiation Lab. Do you have any opinion why that came about?

Lovell

Yes - Iím just trying to collect my thoughts. I wonder if I dealt with that or not in the short Society thingÖ What I said in the - I think itís all part of the general story as to why radio astronomy took so long to develop after Reberís observations. And what I say in this paper is that itís related to the general conservative attitude of astronomers and scientists generally. Namely, that either the sun or the stars are pouring out most of their energy in this part of the spectrum (?) And there seemed to be no known physical processes nor no reasons at all for believing that any radiations outside the visual band would give us any really important information about the universe. Iím sure this is basically what appeared to be a sound physical judgment. Could I give you another example?

Sullivan

Yes.

Lovell

People nowadays often wonder why in the early days, for instance, we built this big dish at Jodrell Bank for wavelengths which would now be considered long. They forget that when I had to try and get a considerable sum of money for that dish nobody, apart from Southworth on the sun, had ever succeeded in detecting radio waves with a wavelength of 1 meter. So even then it would have been impossible to have produced arguments which would have convinced other physicists and other scientists standing in judgement on these proposals that one should spend a million pounds, or whatever it was, on producing a dish in a wavelength range in which nothing was known to exist.

Sullivan

Well, there was a little bit. There was Piddington and Minnett did the moon in the late Ď40s, and there was some other solar work, NRL and such.

Lovell

Oh, yes.

Sullivan

But youíre quite right though with the cosmic sources - But now what about when the hydrogen line came along?

Lovell

As you say in America, I think this situation applied in America where the concentration was naturally on the big telescope, after all the 200-inch had just been commissioned in 1947-48. And you must remember America in those days, and I say this with very great respect, was not the immense scientific power that it is today. It is relatively recent this enormous wealth of science in America. You can date it almost to Sputnik.

Sullivan

Oh, yes. Iím a child of that.

Lovell

It created a revolution. It would be quite wrong for me to preach you about the history of American radio astronomy because you know it. But you have famous people like Bart Bok who(?)

End Tape 76B

Click start to listen to the audio for tape 77A of the 1976 interview.

Begin Tape 77A

Sullivan

This is continuing with Sir Bernard Lovell on 1 September 1976. What were you saying about Bok?

Lovell

Iím sure youíve got a record of Bart Bok Ė I canít remember with whom Ė of making a public speech somewhere, maybe in (?) Foundation, pleading for some American investment in radio astronomy. And then, of course, there were the early misfortunes associated with Green Bank still further into the story.

Sullivan

Youíre referring to the 140-ft?

Lovell

Yes, and the trouble with the directions there. The sadness about Pawsey.

Sullivan

Yes. But this is even later than what Iím talking about. Itís an interesting point you make about, well youíve got these big optical telescopes Ė you can concentrate in that area. But the radio physicists at the Radiation Lab at MIT could have just gone and developed radio astronomy quite independent of what was going on the 200-inch. There wasnít any national astronomy funding organization that was setting priorities.

Lovell

Well, they could presume to also develop the magnetron in the War, or any of the devices that we developed. I simply do not know how youíve given an explanation of this. You can talk around it as weíre doing in these terms. There was limited money and limited manpower. You can think of many examples since then and ask why didnít a group of people or certain societies engage in certain developments. In the millimeter wave radio astronomy, for example, whether that was going to be important or not. Thereís nothing particularly odd about that, I mean nobody can do everything. You have to be an almighty wise to see the future, donít you?

Sullivan

Sure.

Lovell

If you always did the right things - I think this is a battle of which one has with oneself and with oneís students that the universe which exists is not that which we investigate today. But how can you and I judge what is the correct thing that somebody in 20 yearsí time would say, ďMy God, why didnít those people do ĎXí, or ĎYí, or ĎZí?Ē I mean, look at the discovery of pulsars. And in spite of the remarkable discoveries of quasars, pulsars, within a decade, within their own subject, you still find a group going around at Jodrell Bank of great reluctance to start investigating or searching for anything outside of those two subjects. They write their computer programs to investigate particular aspects of these phenomena. And more and more, it seems to me, that very important pieces of information about the universe may be going into the dustbin.

Sullivan

Because people are not willing to explore - ?

Lovell

Explore, yes.

Sullivan

But hasnít it always been just a small fraction of - ?

Lovell

Incidentally, this is why I said I was always only happy when I had the telescope working for 10 or 15 percent of its time on something which was not known to be producing results. In a place like Jodrell Bank you have commitments to your students, you must give them run-of-the-mill stuff so they get into their PhD thesis. If you devote all your activity and (?) instrumentation of that, then sure enough youíll decay in the decades.

Sullivan

I was rather interested in the remark you made in introducing Philip Morrison the other evening about this letter that you wrote to him in í58 was it? í57? Shortly before their Nature article. You never did devote any fraction of the telescope time to looking for intelligent signals?

Lovell

No.

Sullivan

That was a little bit too speculative, was that the reasoning there?

Lovell

Yes, I think so. I think that exceeded my own view of what was reasonable speculation. Not that I was against it, it was a person assessment that any success in that kind of search you would need to take every damn radio telescope in the world and set it on it. I think I said something like that Ė if you could stop all the defense radars and use all those dishes on this subject then you might be getting somewhere.

Sullivan

You still feel that way now?

Lovell

Oh, sure. Well, you say did I still feel that way. I feel that for a proper attack on the subject -

Sullivan

Or something like Cyclops, I mean you think thatís what it really requires?

Lovell

Well, Cyclops, I have some reservations about that because of this transmitting, we were talking about listening.

Sullivan

No, its primary mission was just plain listening. Surveying the nearest millions stars over 30 years, or so.

Lovell

Oh, is it? I thought it had a powerful transmitter.

Sullivan

No. Itís a big ear. Well, Iíve already asked you the question about the major achievements of radio astronomy and you listed them specifically. Iíd be interested in how you think radio astronomy had changed astronomy as a whole. Have the optical astronomers been able to stay the same because of radio astronomy?

Lovell

I havenít got a complete analysis of the time for which the 200-inch has been (?), but I would have thought that if you take the big American telescopes that you would find, of the last 15 years, for example, a considerable amount of their time has been devoted to the redshift measurements of quasars. A perfectly clear example of how the situation has been changed.

Sullivan

Well, thatís certainly true. I was thinking more of a philosophical point of view. I mean, do optical astronomers think differently because - I think radio astronomers are a different breed in many ways. Has this infected the optical astronomy community? Have you seen this taking place at all?

Lovell

I think the answer is a positive one. Bearing in mind that the optical astronomers are no longer related only to the radio astronomers, but they are related to the entire spectrum. I think a few years ago the question would have been more difficult to answer than it is now. But you canít be an optical astronomer now. There just isnít an optical astronomer. After all, you observe most of the interesting objects in the universe, you now have information from gamma-rays, X-rays, the lot.

Sullivan

Right, and the radio was really just the first step.

Lovell

It was the first step.

Sullivan

Well, unless you have some other comments as you look over development.

Lovell

Thereís nothing else I want to say, but if there is something else you want to ask me, Iíll do my best to answer it. Iím sure other questions will occur to you as you investigate.

Sullivan

Yes. Thereís no doubt about that, and as you say youíve written a lot but your past is much better (?)

Lovell

But I havenít attempted to write the history.

Sullivan

Oh, no, but your own personal involvement.

Lovell

I wanted particularly to write the history of the radio telescope which was so very, very complicated and contains so many lessons (?)

Sullivan

But if everyone who has been a major figure in the field had written a book or two like that there wouldnít be much for me -

Lovell

I donít propose to follow up any more. Out of the Zenith was my last effort in that direction. I will look up some of these papers, and you have the complete list of the ones, and do let me know if you want -

Sullivan

That ends the interview with Sir Bernard Lovell on 1 September 1976.

End Tape 77A


Modified on Tuesday, 28-Mar-2017 12:42:34 EDT by Ellen Bouton, Archivist (Questions or feedback)