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Karl Jansky

AKA Karl Guthe Jansky

Born: 22-Oct-1905
Birthplace: Norman, OK
Died: 14-Feb-1950
Location of death: Red Bank, NJ
Cause of death: Kidney failure

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Astronomer, Engineer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Radio waves from outer space

Electrical engineer Karl Jansky discovered extraterrestrial radio waves, laying the groundwork for the development of radio astronomy. He was hired by Bell Laboratories in 1928, and assigned to identify the odd interference that occasionally interfered with short-wave radio receivers. He designed and constructed 14.6 meter rotatable, directional antenna system, and found that most of the interference was caused by thunderstorms. But a small fraction of the interference, he concluded, was caused by radio emissions reaching earth from stars of the constellation Sagittarius, at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Jansky is the namesake of the jansky, a unit of measurement for radio-wave emission strength, but his discovery of extraterrestrial radio waves was remarkably lucky -- he happened to be scanning the heavens during a once in eleven years period of low sunspot activity, and at most other times virtually all extraterrestrial radio waves at the frequency he was monitoring would have been drowned out. After publishing his findings in the Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers in 1932, Jansky never returned to this topic, and he died of kidney disease 18 years later at the age of 44. At the time of his death the importance of his discovery was only beginning to be understood, but as amateur astronomer Grote Reber confirmed and expanded Jansky's findings, he showed how radio astronomy could be used to gather information about astronomic objects beyond the reach of visual astronomy.

His brother, Cyril Jansky Jr., was a theoretical physicist and radio engineer who was instrumental in construction of two early experimental radio stations in the 1910s, 9XM (now WHA) in Madison, Wisconsin and 9XI (now KUOM) in Minneapolis-St Paul.

Father: Cyril Jansky (electrical engineering professor, b. 15-Mar-1870, d. 10-Dec-1959)
Mother: Nellie Moreau Jansky (b. Sep-1870, m. 27-Dec-1891, d. Jun-1952)
Brother: Cyril Moreau Jansky (radio engineer, b. Jun-1895, d. 1975)
Brother: Nelson Jansky (music critic, b. 13-Apr-1903, d. Dec-1978)
Sister: Helen Jansky (b. circa 1910, d. 2006)
Sister: Mary Adelaide Jansky Striffler (twin, bacteriologist, b. 3-Apr-1913, d. 18-Jun-1989)
Brother: Maurice Jansky (twin, engineer, b. 3-Apr-1913, d. Oct-1965)
Wife: Alice Knapp Jansky (m. 1929, two children)
Son: David Jansky

    High School: Central High School, Madison, WI (1923)
    University: BS Physics, University of Wisconsin at Madison (1927)
    University: MS Physics, University of Wisconsin at Madison (1936)

    Bell Laboratories 1928-50
    Phi Beta Kappa Society
    Units of Measure Jansky (measure of flux density in radio signals from space)
    Czech Ancestry Paternal
    English Ancestry Maternal
    French Ancestry Maternal

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