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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Litton

Charles Litton
Tex Thornton
Last week a couple of high powered radio telescopes managed to take some pictures of an asteroid passing near the Earth. I got to wondering just how they managed this, being as the asteroid (2011 UW 158) was millions of miles away. Seems they used a 20 terawatt radar signal which came from a pair of Litton Klystrons. A klystron is a device for generating high power microwaves. It's the big brother to the magnetron found in microwave ovens. But what's this 'Litton'? That name sounds vaguely familiar. Well, it should. It was a giant defense conglomerate. Started by Charles Litton, but driven to success by Tex Thornton. Tex was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan in October, 1981.

Actual information about the radar gear at Arecibo is sparse and hard to come by. The web site is sadly neglected. An inquiry to the Wikipedia Reference Desk finally produced a useful, if outdated, link. Makes me wonder if information on high powered radar is a matter of national security.

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