Bernard Burke, who co-discovered Jupiter’s “voice,” dies at 90

Jupiter Emissions Co-discoverer Bernard Burke speaking at PRE VI Conference. Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Friday, August 10, 2018 


With deep sadness, the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism reports the passing of Bernard Burke, distinguished MIT astrophysicist and former DTM Staff Scientist.

Burke adjusting recording instruments at a Carnegie radio receiver truck. Photo: DTM Archives, via the Baltimore Sun.

Burke, who was an integral part of DTM's astronomy group starting in 1953, moved on to be Professor of Physics at MIT in 1965 where his work shifted to, among other things, the detection of gravitational lensing. He also played a key role in the development of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) that allows high resolution imaging of cosmic structures. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1970 and served as President of the American Astronomical Society from 1986 to 1988. He became MIT Professor Emeritus of Astrophysics until his passing on August 5, 2018 at the age of 90. In addition to his 12 years on the DTM faculty, Burke was a member of the department's visiting committee in 1994 and became DTM's first Merle A. Tuve Senior Fellow in 1997.

DTM's first three Merle A. Tuve Senior Fellows (from left) Bernard Burke, Don Anderson, and Renzo Sancisi pictured with Maxine Singer, President of the Carnegie Institution from 1988 to 2002.

Among Burke's many achievements in radio astronomy was the 1955 discovery of Jupiter's radio waves, intercepted while a DTM Staff Scientist with Kenneth Franklin at Carnegie's 96-acre radio telescope network in Seneca, Maryland. The discovery was the first detection of radio noise from another planet. It marked the birth of planetary radio astronomy and opened a new window into the study of planetary magnetospheres. 

Left: News story on The Washington Post and Times Herald covering Burke and Franklin's discovery (click for large image). Right: Roadside historic marker of the discovery (click for large image). Photos: DTM Archives

In September 2005, the Carnegie Institution and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center organized a ceremony open to the public to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Jupiter's radio waves discovery.

Burke spent his life exploring the most distant corners of the universe through radio astronomy. Together with F. Graham-Smith, he is the co-author of the popular textbook, An Introduction to Radio Astronomy.

Bernard Burke (right) with Charles Little in receiver truck at Derwood radio telescope, 1964. Photo: DTM Archives