The Holmdel Horn, a cosmic shrine in New Jersey, remains in place | ET REALITY


A radio telescope that discovered evidence of the Big Bang in 1964, revolutionizing the study of the universe, will remain in its original location on Crawford Hill in Holmdel, New Jersey, city officials announced last week.

Rakesh Antala, a real estate developer, had proposed building a senior housing center on the site, a plan that drew opposition from residents and astronomy buffs. But an agreement between city officials and Antala seemed to herald the end of the cosmic controversy.

The Holmdel Horn antenna, as it is known, was built in 1959 by AT&T Bell Laboratories, the telephone company’s renowned research arm, for an experiment called Project Echo that transmitted messages by bouncing microwaves off giant aluminized balloons.

In 1964, two young astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, found themselves harassed by an omnidirectional hiss while examining the night sky for their own research. The static was eventually identified as heat left over from the Big Bang. Its existence provided compelling evidence that the universe had begun with a tremendous explosion; Since then, astrophysicists have been studying this radiation for clues about how and why the Big Bang occurred.

Dr. Penzias and Dr. Wilson won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 and the Holmdel antenna was designated a National Historic Landmark.

But the location of the horn has been the subject of controversy recently. An ownership odyssey began in 1984, after AT&T merged with the so-called Baby Bells. Bell Labs eventually became Lucent and then Alcatel-Lucent, which was bought by Nokia.

In 2020, Nokia sold the last remaining piece of the former Bell Labs complex in Holmdel (43 acres comprising Crawford Hill, including the antenna) to Crawford Hill Holdings LLC, run by Antala, a former Bell Labs manager and serial entrepreneur.

a coalition of Conservation and community groups opposed the development over concerns that this could result in the antenna being moved to another part of the hill or somewhere else entirely. He cited the need to preserve open space and protect the antenna.

The coalition members covered the city of Holmdel with “Store the horn antenna” signed and circulated a petition urging the preservation of the antenna and its configuration, eventually gathering 8,000 signatures from 49 states and 60 countries.

Dr. Wilson, who lives in Holmdel, weighed in on the controversy in a recent interview.

“I would like it to stay where it is,” he said, noting that the antenna would require protection from vandals and storms. “And I think the idea of ​​turning it into a park is a good one.”

In August, the Holmdel Township Committee took the first steps toward acquiring at least part of the hill, including the antenna, citing “increased public support for the preservation of the Crawford Hill property.”

Under a memorandum of understanding signed Oct. 12, the city will pay $5.5 million for 35 acres, including the land on which the telescope sits, leaving the rest for Antala to develop. The city wants to turn its portion of the hill into a park, perhaps to include a visitor center.

“This advancement will allow future generations to observe Horn Antenna, a National Historic Landmark located within Holmdel, as well as the stunning views that can be seen from the highest point in Monmouth County, all as part of an extensive 35-mile public space. acres. park,” Mayor Domenico Luccarelli of Holmdel said in a statement to Patch, a local online newsletter.

In a separate statement, Antala said: “As in all negotiated agreements, no one gets exactly what they want. But as we maintained from the beginning of the process, the Horn Antenna would remain in place and a significant portion of the property would remain as open space, and that is exactly what was agreed upon with the city.”

Following the email announcement, Antala said: “We are happy that both parties are working to resolve the matter, which is moving in the right direction.”

The coalition of groups that had opposed Antala’s plan (Citizens for Informed Land Use, Preserve Holmdel and Friends of Holmdel Open Space) praised the agreement, but said in a statement that they would remain vigilant: “This recent action of the Holmdel Municipal Committee highlights the progress that can be made when local governments are willing to listen and work with residents.”

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