Antony Hewish

  • Year:

    1973

  • Subject:

    Physics

  • Award:

    Michelson

  • Citation:

    For the discovery of pulsars (with Sylvia Jocelyn Bell Burnell).

Antony Hewish was born in Fowey, Cornwall, UK in 1924. He studied at the University of Cambridge, completing his undergraduate degree in 1948 and his Ph.D. in 1952. Following his degree work, Dr. Hewish became a Research Fellow at Gonville and Caius College where he had been an undergraduate, and in 1961 transferred to Churchill College as Director of Studies in Physics. He was University Lecturer during 1961-69, Reader during 1969-71, and Professor of Radio Astronomy from 1971 until his retirement in 1989. Following Martin Ryle's (whose research group he had been part of) illness in 1977, he assumed leadership of the Cambridge radio astronomy group and was head of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory from 1982-88.

In 1967, Dr. Hewish and Ph.D. student Jocelyn Bell completed a radio telescope at Cambridge designed to observe the scintillation, or twinkling, of stars. In late November they observed an unusual signal corresponding to a sharp burst of radio energy at a regular interval of approximately one second. After ruling out that the signal was man-made or originated from extraterrestrial beings, the majority of physicists agreed the best explanation was that it was a neutron star--a massive star that died and collapsed into an incredibly dense, spinning body. Their discovery served as the first evidence of this phenomenon, and the signal source became known as a pulsar. It is believed that rapidly rotating neutron stars with intense electromagnetic fields emit radio waves from their north and south poles. From a great distance, these radio emissions are perceived in pulses, similar to the way one sees the light from a lighthouse's rotating lantern.

The discovery is of paramount importance to physics and astrophysics because it checks Einstein's Theory of General Relativity and demonstrates the existence of gravitational waves. New avenues have opened up for studying the properties of matter under very extreme conditions. The pulsar's discovery also is the first step in verifying the existence of black holes.

Information as of 1988