Thomas Edison Almost Invented the Radio Telescope

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Photo of early radio telescope model via NAAPO

In 1890, an electrical engineer working for Thomas Edison by the name of Arthur Kennelly wrote a letter to the director of the Lick Observatory. He had described an interesting experiment being undertaken by Edison that may have been the first radio telescope — forty years before its official invention, interestingly enough.

According to historical record as we know it, the first radio telescope was built in 1931 by Karl Jansky, an ingineer working for Bell Laboratories, with the intention of discovering the source of interference transmissions. His investigation led him to conclude that the origin of the interference transmissions was, in fact, the Milky Way. Five years later, amateur astronomer Grote Reber applied this technique in the first application of a new branch of astronomy that became known as radio astronomy.

Still, there are tantalizing hints that its birth may have come almost 40 years before.

That Time Thomas Edison Almost Invented the Radio Telescope

In his letter about Edison to the director of Lick, Kennelly said the inventor had turned his mind to solar physics. Along with the electromagnetic disturbances we receive from the Sun,” he wrote, “which, of course, you know we recognise as light and heat” Edison had decided that it was “not unreasonable to suppose there will be disturbances of much longer wavelength.”

If this were to prove true, Kennelly said, “we might translate them into sound.”

Edison’s plan was to use a huge mass of iron ore. Around this hunk of metal, he would erect a series of wooden poles, and from these poles would be a cable consisting of seven carefully insulated wires, the terminals of which would be attached to a telephone or similar apparatus. “It is then possible,” Kennelly wrote, “that violent disturbances in the Sun’s atmosphere might so disturb either the normal electromagnetic flow of energy we receive, or the normal distribution of magnetic force on this planet, as to bring about an appreciably great change in the flow of magnetic induction embraced by the cable loop.”

Edison had suspected that such electromagnetic disturbances would be associated with sunspot activity and hoped that Lick Observatory would be able to provide information as to just when these occurred, since Edison and Kennelly would not be able to establish a connection “unless we have positive evidence of coincident disturbances in the corona.”

Unfortunately, there is no evidence one way or the other whether Edison ever carried out the experiment. If he had, it probably wouldn’t have worked. Edison’s proposed apparatus would have been very insensitive, capable of detecting only very long wavelengths—and the ionosphere prevents such long waves from reaching the earth’s surface. Ironically, it was Kennelly who went on to co-predict the existence of the Heaviside Layer, which accounted for this effect.

That Time Thomas Edison Almost Invented the Radio Telescope

Article originally published here.

via Jean-Francois Hibbert’s Page


Taxoplasma Infection Permanently Shifts Balance in Cat-and-Mouse Game

130918181110Imagine a world where mice aren’t afraid of cats. Did you imagine it? What brave mice, right? It would be like humans hanging out with lions. Sure the lions would eat them, but at least those idiots would die looking like heroes.

Recently, a parasite found in cat feces, called Toxoplasma, was found to make mice lose their fear of cats. Even after the flu-like symptoms and infections from the parasite disappeared in the mice, the mice were still oblivious to the feline devils that wanted to eat them.

It isn’t clear why this happened, but there are a few speculations. Perhaps the parasite ruins the mice’s sense of smell that plays a role in making them fear cats. Or maybe it damages neurons responsible for memory, learning and habit. It may have something to do with the way the mouse’s immune system attacks the parasite. Scientists are gonna have to play with more cat feces to find out the real culprit.

The experiment was carried out by Graduate Student Wendy Ingram from University of California, Berkley. She also carried out another experiment, where she used a genetically altered strain of Toxoplasma that didn’t create cysts or any infections in the mouse’s brains. Despite this alteration, the mouse still didn’t fear the cat. Either Ingram sucks at genetic engineering, or parasites that affect body parts besides the brain can change how we behave. She’s probably better than me at genetic engineering, so I’ll just say it’s the latter.

Oh, and why are these scientists playing around with Cat feces? I bet it’s partially because they enjoy it. But mostly, it’s because Toxoplasma that infects humans have been known to compromise the immune system and cause death. The infections of the parasite has also been linked to suicidal tendencies, schizophrenia and spontaneous abortions. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been linked to bravery against lions. Unless the suicidal tendencies count.


via Jean-Francois Hibbert