[Big Ear Masthead]

Last remains of Big Ear
telescope removed
By Susan Kelley

From The Delaware Gazette
May 8, 1998

Editorial corrections will be shown in red.

The last pieces of Ohio's only radio telescope came crashing down Thursday.

Nicknamed Big Ear, the telescope was the world's first to search for extraterrestrial radio signals. As big as three football fields, it has been off U.S. 23S near the Methodist Theological School in Ohio since 1963.

The telescope was on property owned by Green Highlands Ltd., and was leased by Ohio State University. That lease expired Dec. 31 and the land was sold to New Green Highlands Development Ltd.

Much to the chagrin of Big Ear enthusiasts, that cleared the way for dismantling the telescope and putting in a 381-lot development and a nine-hole golf course that is an expansion of the Dornoch Golf Club, formerly the Delaware Golf Club.

"It's quite a project," said Delaware resident Clarence E.R. Jones, a 30-year excavation and demolition expert who was in charge of tearing down Big Ear.

The telescope was a large, grid-like antenna 105 feet high and 300 feet long. [Not quite correct. A tiltable flat reflector 340' long x 100' high faced a parabolic reflector which was 360' long x 70' high.] It was dismantled in six sections, each weighing more than 25 tons. Jones, 76, said he's never demolished anything that large before.

"It went just like I expected," Jones said of the project he began April 22. He said the only snags were the recent rains and the surrounding mud from the new golf course that's in the works.

Jones said it will take about two more weeks to cut up the antenna for scrap.

Bob Dixon, Big Ear assistant director, previously said OSU intended to sell the telescope if possible. But Dixon said Thursday that never happened. "It's just a tragic situation," he saud of the telescope's demise.

There is hope a new radio telescope can be built in the area.

"We are designing a totally new kind of telescope," Dixon said, but added they are several years away from looking for land for the telescope. He said Central Ohio is the first choice.

Big Ear's initial project was an ambitious radio survey of the universe. Begun in 1965, the eight-year survey cataloged 70 percent of the sky and discovered 20,000 radio-emitting objects, many of which were previously unknown. Signals were received from the most distant objects in the universe, its designer John Kraus said.

Among them were quasars, starlike celestial objects that emit immense quantities of light, powerful radio waves, or both.

It wasn't until the 1970s that Big Ear began scanning the skies for intelligent life forms. The radio telescope changed its focus when the National Science Foundation cut funds for the sky survey in 1972. The following year it became the first telescope to continuously monitor for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The most widely publicized transmission the telescope received was recorded in August 1977 by volunteer John Ehman. [The volunteer's name was Jerry Ehman, not John Ehman.] The unusually strong signal that passed through Big Ear's antennae has become known as "Wow!" because that is what Ehman wrote in the margin of a chart documenting the signal.

Big Ear personnel ruled out natural causes for the signal. However, the signal occurred only once and Big Ear could make no firm conclusions about the transmission.

The signal, which will be remembered long after the telescope is gone, has been mentioned in the television series "The X-Files."


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