Kenneth C Turner Spreading the word or how the news went from Princeton to Holmdel

Ken Turner has done research in radio astronomy at the Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, and served as Program Officer for Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology at the USA National Science Foundation. His current interests include the study of psychology.

After finishing up my PhD at Princeton in 1962, I was awarded a Post Doctoral Fellowship at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. We were located in Northwest Washington, DC, and I was working with Bernard F. Burke learning radio astronomy, mostly related to the study of neutral hydrogen, and utilizing a 60-ft radio telescope at nearby Derwood, Maryland.

At Princeton I had been a member of the Dicke group investigating the experimental foundations of general relativity and any other cosmological or gravitational effect we could think up. Jim Peebles was also a member of the group and a good friend, so when I heard that he was going to give a talk at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Baltimore I made it a point to attend. Jim outlined the current activities of the group, which included an experiment to look for the red-shifted primordial radiation of the "big bang," which was expected to peak in the microwave region. Although this had been predicted by Gamow and Alpher some 20 or so years before, that prediction was "lost in the literature" and was unknown to the Dicke group at the time.

I was much taken by the idea of this experiment, and when I returned to the DTM I told Bernie Burke all about it. A short time afterward he was visiting Arno Penzias at Bell Laboratories, and, as I recall the story, Arno had told him that they were trying to make an absolute calibration of the big horn antenna there and were having trouble accounting for the last few degrees of noise temperature they had measured. At that point, Bernie told Arno and Bob Wilson, who was working with Arno on the experiment, about the background radiation that the Princeton group was tooling up to look for.

Arno and Bob immediately saw the implication of their "difficulty" and published their discovery of the radiation of the "primeval fireball," a phrase coined by John Wheeler to characterize the effect Peebles had predicted from his calculations of the conditions thought to prevail in the very early universe.

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