Planetary Radio Astronomy Turns 50 with Fanfare!

Contact Leonard Garcia, NASA Goddard, 301-286-9486,;
or Michelle Brooks, Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at 202-478-8830;

Images located at

For schedule, directions, and other details see


Washington, DC – Fifty years ago, Bernard Burke and Kenneth Franklin, of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM), picked up “the voice of Jupiter,” at an observatory near Seneca, MD. It was the first radio emission detected from another planet. “That discovery was not only big news in the popular press, it changed the course of planetary science,” commented planetary researcher Dr. Sean Solomon, current director of the Carnegie department. Carnegie and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center are marking the golden anniversary with a ceremony and symposium open to the public on Sept. 29th.

In 1955 the two Carnegie astronomers used a 96-acre radio antenna array for their discovery. “For about three months, we noticed an apparent form of interference about a dozen times on our records,” commented Franklin. “It was not smooth, but a very spiky noise, so we did not believe it was real. Laying all the records together showed it was actually coming from something in the sky. Identifying the source as Jupiter was a tremendous surprise to all astronomy. It opened up a whole new field of research, the application of astrophysics to the planets.” It was later determined that the emission came from Jupiter’s moon Io interacting with the planet’s magnetic field. The first detection of the emission provided a new means to study other planets in the solar system including magnetic fields, which are important because they shield planets from the charged particles of the solar wind. Scientists currently have their sights set on detecting radio emissions from planets outside our solar system in the hopes of finding shielding magnetospheres, which may indicate protected atmospheres that could harbor life.

On Sept. 29th at 9 a.m. participants will re-live history as researchers demonstrate a receiver and antenna system capable of picking up Jupiter’s “voice” in Seneca, MD. Two hours later, Dr. Burke and others will reflect on the early days of radio astronomy, breakthroughs during the Voyager mission, and the latest efforts to detect radio emissions from planets beyond our solar system. The talks will take place at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, 5241 Broad Branch Road, NW. Later that evening, astronomer Alycia Weinberger will discuss “Our Solar System and Others Not So Like It,” at the Carnegie Science Evening at 6:45 p.m. at the downtown Carnegie headquarters at 16th and P Sts., NW.

“This discovery, 50 years ago, engaged the public and inspired the scientific community to study the radio emissions from the planets. We intend for this anniversary to inspire a new generation who will make the next great discoveries,” remarked Leonard Garcia, a radio astronomer at Goddard Space Flight Center and the symposium’s organizer.

For schedule, directions, and other details see

The Carnegie Institution of Washington ( has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments throughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.