Article by Tiziana Venturi (INAF, Istituto di Radioastronomia)
Radio astronomy in Italy began almost like a joke among a group of young and enthusiastic physicists at the University of Bologna around 1960.
More than 60 years have gone since that thrilling moment, most of the people involved in the initial stages of this extremely successful journey are no longer active these days, and the younger generations are not aware of the long process which have set the basis for the role Italy plays at present in the international radioastronomical framework. Travelling again through those starting days, the aim of this this book is to give us all a chance to remind ourselves of our scientific and technological roots, and to acknowledge the amazing forward look our “fathers” and “mothers” had.
The book Why don’t you build a radio telescope? 40 years of radio astronomy in Bologna was also a chance for us to go through an impressive archive of photos and documents, reawakening memories and episodes which had almost been forgotten.
Some of them have been reported here, and alternate the description of the construction of the Northern Cross, the first radio telescope in Italy and one of the first interferometers in Europe, of the birth of VLBI, and of the scientific expansion of the Institute.
The growth of the Institute of Radio Astronomy (IRA), in terms of projects, instrumentation, science, personnel and expansion on the Italian territory, is described and followed up until 2000, the auspice being that our current younger colleagues will continue this exciting story telling for the future generations of radio astronomers.
The Northern Cross – operating at the low frequency of 408 MHz – was conceived as a project, and the observations and surveys carried out over the first 3 decades of operations set the basis for the scientific and technological expertise which is still recognized worldwide: Italy is a partner in the International LOFAR Telescope, with a LOFAR2.0 station being installed in Medicina in a couple of years from now; moreover, thanks to the Northern Cross IRA has advanced in the low frequency technology, playing now a key role in the construction of SKA-Low.
The start of VLBI operations, with the inclusion of the 32m dish in Medicina (and later of the twin antenna in Noto) in the European VLBI Network, brought to the birth of a VLBI group whose expertise in data analysis and scientific applications has expanded continuously to the present times, spreading the seeds for the current involvement in the new frontier multimessenger science.
Last but not least, a key element of the Insitute of Radio Astronomy is its computing centre. It has been clear to us from the early ‘80ies that adequate computing facilities are the hearth of any radio astronomy institute. This is particularly true these days, in preparation of the worldwide computing revolution which needs to be in place once the SKA will start delivering data, and which IRA is contributing to prepare.
This story has been written in Italian by our colleagues Loretta Gregorini, Luigina Feretti, Gabriele Giovannini, Franco Mantovani, Paola Parma and Giampaolo Vettolani, and has been translated in English by Reginald Christopher Butler.
The English version can be freely downloaded here.
Image: © INAF