David MunnsJul 29, 2013
A Single Sky
How an International Community Forged the Science of Radio Astronomy
MIT Press 2012
How do you measure a star? In the middle of the 20thcentury, an interdisciplinary and international community of scientists began using radio waves to measure heavenly bodies and transformed astronomy as a result. David P. D. Munns's new book charts the process through which radio astronomers learned to see the sounds of the sky, creating a new space for Cold War science. A Single Sky: How an International Community Forged the Science of Radio Astronomy (MIT Press, 2012) uses the emergence of radio astronomy to upend some of the commonly-held assumptions about the history of the modern sciences. Munns emphasizes the relative freedom of radio astronomers that stands in contrast to the popular meta-narrative of Cold War scientists bound by the interests of the military-industrial complex. He also shifts our focus from the more commonly-studied individual local and national contexts of science to look instead at scientific communities that transcended disciplinary and national boundaries, blending accounts of Australia, the UK, the Netherlands, and the US into a story that emphasizes the importance of cooperation (not competition) in driving scientific development. In addition to this, A Single Sky pays special attention to the importance of material culture (especially that of big radio telescopes) and pedagogy in shaping modern radio astronomy. It's a fascinating story. Enjoy! For more information about The Dish, a film that Munns mentioned in the course of our conversation, see here.