Dutch radio astronomy discovery honoured

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Wednesday will mark the 60 year anniversary of the first time Dutch scientists observed hydrogen radiation from the Milky Way. The great radio astronomy advancement happened using a dish in the former transmitter site of Radio Kootwijk near Apeldoorn.

Although American astronomers had already succeeded in detecting this type of radiation a few months earlier, the discovery was of great importance for the future of Dutch radio astronomy. 

“Dutch radio astronomy made international fame. We were suddenly on the international scientific map,” said astronomy professor emeritus Hugo van Woerden of the 11 May 1951 discovery. Van Woerden was involved in observations during the 50s and is today one of the leading figures in the world of astronomy.

Interestingly, the achievement was made possible by the German occupiers of World War II. “The dish with which the first measurements were made was originally part of the Atlantic Wall,” said Van Woerden. The Atlantic Wall involved a series of radio dishes along the Western European coast that Germans used to detect enemy aircraft. 

“After the war, they were rusting in the sand dunes and were moved to the area of Radio Kootwijk. One was made available to astronomers who were looking for radio waves from the Milky Way and thus were able to detect them,” said Van Woerden.

On 11 May, Radio Kootwijk will unveil a panel in honour of the Dutch achievement. It will be placed at the location of the original dish used in the research. 

© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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