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Cambridge Astronomy Cavendish Astrophysics

Cavendish Astrophysics and the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory

Radio astronomy is the study of celestial objects by means of the natural radio waves they emit. It tells us about the Solar System, our own Galaxy (the Milky Way), radio galaxies, quasars and cosmology. The signals emitted by radio sources can be received from the most distant parts of the Universe, though they are very weak when they reach us. Some of the problems are fundamental, like star formation, the energy sources of pulsars, quasars and radio galaxies, and the evolution of the Universe. They cannot be answered in terrestrial laboratories. Other problems are more technical like the design of highly sensitive receivers and computer software for telescope control and image analysis. These techniques are widely applicable outside astronomy. Radio astronomy is thus important both as pure research and as a training for scientists.

The Cavendish Laboratory pioneered in this field under the direction of Professor Sir Martin Ryle, F.R.S. from 1945 to 1982. The first Observatory was on the outskirts of Cambridge. In 1957, through the generosity of Mullard Ltd. and with support from the Science Research Council, the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory(MRAO) was built 5 miles south-west of Cambridge, at Lord’s Bridge. The Observatory is operated by the Cavendish Laboratory, supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The work of the MRAO was recognised by the award of the 1974 Nobel Prize for physics to Professor Ryle and Professor Hewish. In 1995 we celebrated 50 years of radio astronomy in Cambridge, and in July 2007 a special programme of events was organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of operations at the MRAO at Lord’s Bridge.