Gravity's Rainbow Comes Full Circle
Nature reports that pulsars were first discovered not by astronomers, but a US Air Force radar technician maintaining the lonely Distant Early Warning Line vigil against Soviet ICBM attack. Bound by a strict Cold War security oath, he kept silent for half a century, until Alaska 's Clear Station was recently decommissioned :
"Earlier this month, 81-year-old Charles Schisler came forward to tell the story of how he used a military radar to identify around a dozen radio sources, some of which were pulsars. Astronomers who have seen Schisler's meticulous logs believe that he spotted a bright pulsar in the nearby Crab Nebula months before the first scientific observation of a pulsar was published in Nature (A. Hewish et al. Nature 217, 709-713; 1968). Although Schisler never knew exactly what he was seeing, the story should be counted as an early pulsar spotting, says Jocelyn Bell Burnell, an astronomer at the University of Oxford, UK, and one of the authors on the original paper. "He happened to be a very observant person," Bell Burnell says
Britannica Blog 's Robert McHenry notes that :
"This anecdote makes a nice companion to the story of Karl Jansky, who went looking for the sources of static in 1933 and invented radio astronomy."
A decade later, in the depths of World War II, a British radio astronomer had the bright idea of warning his nation of the silent approach of supersonic V-2 missiles by listening for the whistling radio noise reflected by the Vergetungswaffen ionization trails as they transited the ionosphere. This tale of Sferic glitter atop gravity's rainbow was not lost on a Cornell literature student with a scientific bent by the name of Thomas Pynchon.
There's no stopping astrophysicists. Some hit the stars even when they aim for London