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Matt Weinstock

October 2, 2007 |  4:50 pm

Sept. 30, 1957

Matt_weinstockd Ever since returning from my vacation I've been thinking about an eerie piece of information I picked up while driving along Highway 395 near Big Pine.

Riding along was Sid Parratt of the Department of Water and Power office in Independence. Sid probably knows the area better than anyone and he pointed out places of interest and their historical backgrounds.

This is mountain country with strange formations--immense areas of black lava rock, huge buttes which seem out of place, an occasional green spot in an immense wasteland.

Just north of the little town of Zurich, Parratt pointed to the right and said, "See that clump of trees way over there?" I did, far in the distance.

A highly unusual project was being built there, he said. Last year some uncommunicative men from Caltech had scouted the Owens River country, he said, looking for a suitable site for some kind of laboratory. It had to be in the wide-open spaces where the air was always clear. They finally settled on 275 acres and leased it for 25 years from the department.

As Parratt understood it, they were building a laboratory to detect radio signals from outer space. However, there was fantastic speculation about the project. Imaginative folk were saying it had something to do with tracking guided missiles.

You have to keep in mind that the people in the section see brilliant flashes of the Nevada atomic blasts and some of them are nervous about radioactivity and other things they don't understand.



This is to report there's nothing mysterious about the project. It is known as a radio astronomy installation. It is headed by John G. Bolton of Caltech and is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research.

The buildings are almost completed and work is going ahead on the railroad tracks on which two huge antennas can be moved to capture signals from outer space. It will be a year before the first antenna is complete, another year before the second is in operation.

1957_0930_fate The project was inspired by the realization that astronomers have gone about as far as they can with visual inspection of what's out there. They hope through radio astronomy to gather additional evidence of such things as the shape and configuration of galaxies. They know already that gas clouds emit certain signals and sensitive equipment elsewhere has recorded radio waves bouncing off the moon and additional information on Jupiter.

To put it another way, the radio astronomy people do not anticipate that they'll intercept any hot flashes from little green men on Mars.

Let's hope that if there's anybody out there, they're not checking on our misbehaving planet, either.

DURING A LULL a pharmacist on duty at a San Fernando Valley super drugstore phoned a bookie and placed some bets. (I know there aren't supposed to be any bookies, but there are).

He was dictating the name of the horse he wanted in the seventh race when the assistant sales manager excitedly dashed up to him and exclaimed:

"What in the devil do you think you're doing? It's all over the store!"

The pharmacist had inadvertently rested his elbow on the store's intercom switch and his bets were going out over the loud speaker.

INEVITABLY, no matter how serious the situation, the jokesters take over. Perhaps it's a good thing thus to temper a crisis with humor.

For instance, some made fellow at Disney studio keeps calling and asking, "Have they sent the freedom balloons down through the Cotton Curtain yet?"

If not, he says he has a message to put on them: "Peace, it's wonderful!"

And as Hugh Brundage, KMPC newscaster, came into the Naples restaurant, Pat Buttram looked up from his lunch and said, "Hi, Hugh, what's new? Have they fired on Ft. Sumter yet?"

AROUND TOWN--A City Hall worker who likes to disconcert people in elevators with irrelevant remarks said to Tom Mannix the other day, "I wish payday would get here--I'm tired of eating at the Midnight Mission." Several passengers quivered noticeably...George Fedor, pixy Vine Street bartender, says he just rented a new house. No furniture in it, but wall-to-wall floors.