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HARVARD RADIO ASTRONOMY STATION

HARVARD RADIO ASTRONOMY STATION. The Harvard Radio Astronomy Station began operation in September 1956 at a site in the Davis Mountains five miles northwest of Fort Davis. The site, known as Cook Flat, is a grassy valley at the base of Mount Locke. The radio astronomy station was operated by Harvard College Observatory and was only five miles southeast of the University of Texas McDonald Observatoryqv, on the summit of Mount Locke. The first radio instrument, completed in 1956, was a paraboloidal dish antenna twenty-eight feet in diameter. The major program of research with the twenty-eight-foot telescope was the solar-patrol project, which continuously monitored solar activity and recorded the high-intensity radio emissions from solar flares. The twenty-eight-foot dish tracked the sun from sunrise to sunset with almost 100 percent efficiency daily from September 1956 until December 1982. The solar radio astronomy program, under the direction of Alan Maxwell of Harvard College Observatory, was supported initially (1956–73) by the United States Air Force and later (1973–82) by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and by the National Science Foundation.

A second instrument, a paraboloidal dish antenna eighty-five feet in diameter, was completed in July 1962 and was used to monitor solar flares, to survey radio sources in the Milky Way galaxy, and also to observe quasars, radio galaxies, and other extragalactic sources. In March 1972 the eighty-five-foot antenna was first employed in a VLBI (very long baseline interferometry) program, in which the same objects were observed simultaneously by antennas at Fort Davis, at Owens Valley, California, and at Green Bank, West Virginia. VLBI work, involving these sites and other expanded VLBI networks, continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with support from NSF and NASA.

In August 1982 the Harvard Radio Astronomy Station was officially renamed the George R. Agassiz Station of the Harvard College Observatory. The eighty-five-foot antenna was used in the 1980s for geophysical research, sponsored by the National Geodetic Survey, studying the earth's rotation and the motions of the earth's pole. The original twenty-eight-foot antenna was dismantled in April 1987 and taken to Penticton, British Columbia, where it has been used in various Canadian programs of radio astronomy. The eighty-five-foot antenna was dismantled in July 1991.

However, research in radio astronomy continues in Cook Flat. In February 1990 the National Radio Astronomy Observatory completed construction of a VLBA (very long baseline array) station, including an eighty-two-foot radio dish antenna. The Fort Davis VLBA station is part of a network of ten identical antennas distributed from Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to St. Croix, Virgin Islands. The complete VLBA system was officially opened in August 1993. Therefore, as of 1995, research activity in radio astronomy has been transferred to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory station, which is located about 400 yards southeast of the original Harvard site.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Harvard College Observatory, "The Texas Connection: Harvard West of the Pecos," The Centerline, February 1975. Alan Maxwell, Sky and Telescope, June 1958, September 1961, July 1973, October 1983.

Donald W. Olson

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Donald W. Olson, "HARVARD RADIO ASTRONOMY STATION," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/sqh01), accessed September 16, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.