Three generations of the Pawsey family joined the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in commemorating the birth of radio astronomy on its 74th anniversary. On the 3rd of October 1945, Joseph Pawsey conducted the first successful radio astronomy experiment at the radar station on the Collaroy Plateau, Sydney.
Pawsey was investigating how wartime radar had sometimes been jammed by interference from radio waves, suspected to be coming from the sun. Assisted by Ruby Payne-Scott and Lindsay McCready, Pawsey’s observations of the sun immediately identified steady radio emissions. Using the interference patterns created by the combination of signals directly from the sun and reflected off the ocean’s surface at sunrise, Pawsey then demonstrated that strong, variable radio emissions originated from the vicinity of large sunspots.
These studies of the sun marked the effective beginning of a new branch of science which Pawsey named radio astronomy, and the technique of interferometry gradually became the fundamental working principle of many of the world’s radio telescopes.
Commemorating this event, Joseph Pawsey’s son Hastings Pawsey, with his wife Liz, daughter and two granddaughters toured the Pawsey Centre with representatives of the Australian radio astronomy community to see firsthand how Joseph Pawsey’s landmark observations now underpin the operations of the world’s leading radio telescopes.
Hastings took the opportunity to share his father’s adventure as an Australian scientist during and after wartime, how Dr Pawsey’s inquisitive mind was the catalyst of a journey that took him from his family farm all the way to Cambridge and back to lead Australia’s scientific discoveries at CSIRO. Hastings emphasised his father’s vision of science as a collaborative experience, which is still the case among radioastronomers and the motto at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.