A Single Sky

A Single Sky

How an International Community Forged the Science of Radio Astronomy

By David P.D. Munns

How radio astronomers challenged national borders, disciplinary boundaries, and the constraints of vision to create an international scientific community.





How radio astronomers challenged national borders, disciplinary boundaries, and the constraints of vision to create an international scientific community.

For more than three thousand years, the science of astronomy depended on visible light. In just the last sixty years, radio technology has fundamentally altered how astronomers see the universe. Combining the wartime innovation of radar and the established standards of traditional optical telescopes, the “radio telescope” offered humanity a new vision of the universe. In A Single Sky, the historian David Munns explains how the idea of the radio telescope emerged from a new scientific community uniting the power of radio with the international aspirations of the discipline of astronomy. The radio astronomers challenged Cold War era rivalries by forging a united scientific community looking at a single sky.

Munns tells the interconnecting stories of Australian, British, Dutch, and American radio astronomers, all seeking to learn how to see the universe by means of radio. Jointly, this international array of radio astronomers built a new “community” style of science opposing the “glamour” of nuclear physics. A Single Sky describes a communitarian style of science, a culture of interdisciplinary and international integration and cooperation, and counters the notion that recent science has been driven by competition. Collaboration, or what a prominent radio astronomer called “a blending of radio invention and astronomical insight,” produced a science as revolutionary as Galileo's first observations with a telescope. Working together, the community of radio astronomers revealed the structure of the galaxy.


$34.00 X ISBN: 9780262018333 264 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 12 figures


  • This is a splendid account of early radio astronomy, meticulously researched and beautifully written. It is a concise yet valuable contribution to scholarship covering the two decades when astronomers first confronted the invisible universe.

    Simon Mitton

    American Historical Review

  • A Single Sky makes an important contribution to the history of physics in the high Cold War (ca. 1944–1964). In choosing to tell the story of radio astronomy, Munns has selected a science that operated in the looming shadow of physics and one in which participants chose not to mimic their more well-known and well-supported colleagues in high-energy physics.

    Ann Johnson

    The Journal of American History


  • David Munns's book was an eye-opener for me. Even as a radio astronomer myself, I did not know most of the details in this fabulous story. I recommend this book as a great case study on how international cooperation and scientific openness leads to fantastic discoveries and a good deal of fun.

    Alyssa Goodman

    Professor of Astronomy, Harvard University

  • Before there could be an endeavor called 'radio astronomy,' there had to be people who considered themselves 'radio astronomers,' sitting uneasily amid better-established disciplines like physics, electrical engineering, and optical astronomy. For their new enterprise to flourish, these same people had to carve out effective means to propagate their skills, methods, and mores to a new generation. David Munns follows their efforts across several continents—as they build instruments, institutions, and a community—and provides a fascinating glimpse of a science in the making. Illuminating.

    David Kaiser

    Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, MIT

  • In A Single Sky David Munns accomplishes two important feats: He shows us how the radio telescope emerged out of the ashes of World War II as an essential new scientific instrument which offered researchers and the public a novel view of the cosmos, and at the same time tells an engaging account of radio astronomers' successful efforts to create an international research community that prized collaboration and transcended traditional disciplinary boundaries.

    W. Patrick McCray

    University of California, Santa Barbara