John Gatenby Bolton

John Gatenby Bolton


Date of Birth
June 5, 1922
Date of Death
July 6, 1993

Upon completing work for his bachelor’s degree at the age of twenty, John Bolton left the University of Cambridge in his native England to serve in the Royal Navy during World War II. After the war, he stayed in Australia to develop radio astronomy for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. With an ingenious interferometer using reflection from the sea as one element, his team achieved sufficient angular resolution to identify the first known radio sources, Taurus A, Centaurus A, and Virgo A, as the Crab Nebula and the galaxies NGC 5128 and M 87. Later they located Sagittarius A, the galactic center. They also made an important discovery relating a solar flare to the aurora. After a brief period working in cloud physics in Australia, Bolton built Caltech’s Owens Valley Radio Observatory and directed it from 1955-60. He then returned to Australia to supervise the completion and become the first director of the Australian National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Parkes. There he supervised necessary modifications of the instruments and relayed the television signals from the first lunar landing in 1969. His southern sky surveys—the Parkes Catalogue listed more than 8000 radio sources—led to the discovery of many quasars and greatly increased interaction between optical and radio astronomers. He also made many optical observations at observatories in California to identify his radio sources. His students became leaders in radio astronomy in the United States and the United Kingdom as well as Australia.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Mercury 17, 186 (1988).

Other awards

American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1968.
National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Jansky Prize, 1966.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1977.

Biographical materials

Encyclopedia of Australian Science
Wild, J.P. & V.R. Radhakrishnan, Biographical Memoir, Historical Records of Australian Science, 10, 4, 381-91 (1995).
Wild, J.P. & V. Radhakrishnan, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 41, 72-86 (1995).


Goddard, D.E. & D.K. Milne, Pubs. Astr. Soc. Australia 11, 86-87 (1994).
Kellermann, Kenneth, Physics Today 47, 4, 73-74 (1994).
Kellermann, Kenneth, PASP 108, 729-737 (1996).
Radhakrishnan, V., Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy 14, 115-120 (1993).
Wild, Paul, QJRAS 35, 225-226 (1994).


Caltech Archives (several)

Named after him

Minor planet #12140 Johnbolton


Papers, etc.

Some of Bolton’s papers are at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Australia) Division of Radiophysics (description). There is an extensive oral history interview at the National Library of Australia. There are papers, photos, and other materials at the Caltech Archives.

Other References: Historical

Bhathal, Ragbir, Australian Astronomers: Achievements at the Frontiers of Astronomy (National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1996), pp. 104-16.

Bolton, J.G., “Australian Work on Radio Stars,” Vistas in Astronomy 1, 568-73 (1955).

Bolton, J.G., “History of Australian Astronomy: Radio Astronomy at Dover Heights,” Proceedings of the Astronomical Society of Australia 4, 349-58 (1982).

Bolton, J.G., “The Fortieth Anniversary of Extragalactic Radio Astronomy: Radiophysics in Exile,” Proceedings of the Astronomical Society of Australia 8, 381-83 (1990).

Cohen, Marshall H., “The Owens Valley Radio Observatory: Early Years,” Engineering and Science 57, 8-23 (1994).

CSIRO, “Radio Astronomy at Dover Heights”

Ekers, R.D., “John Bolton’s Variable Baseline Interferometer and the Structure of Radio Galaxies,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 569-75 (1994).

Evans, David Stanley, Under Capricorn : A History of Southern Hemisphere Astronomy (A. Hilger, Bristol, UK, 1988).

Gascoigne, S.C.B., Katrina M. Proust, & Malcolm O. Robins, The Creation of the Anglo-Australian Observatory (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1990).

Goddard, Dorothy E. & Raymond F. Haynes, eds.,“Pioneering a New Astronomy: Papers in memory of John G. Bolton,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 5, 495-680. (1994). [also published as a book]

Goddard, E.E. & D.K. Milne, eds., Parkes: Thirty Years of Radio Astronomy (CSIRO, Melbourne, 1994).

Harris, D.E., “Cygnus A—John Bolton’s First Cosmic Source,” Aust. J. Phys. 47, 615-18 (1994).

Haynes, Raymond F. & Roslynn D., “3C 273: The Hazards of Publication,” Proc. Astr. Soc. Australiat 10, 4, 355-56 (1993).

Haynes, Raymond, Roslynn Haynes, David Malin, & Richard McGee, Explorers of the Southern Sky. A History of Australian Astronomy (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1996).

Hey, John S., The Evolution of Radio Astronomy (Science History Publications, NY, 1973).

Home, R.W., ed. Australian Science in the Making (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1988), 345-373.

Kellermann, K.I., “The Discovery of Quasars and its Aftermath,” Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 17, 267-82 (2014).

Milne, D. K., “John Bolton and the Rainmakers,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 549-53 (1994).

Mills, B. Y., J. Electr. Electron. Eng. Aust. 8, 1, 12-23 (1988).

Munns, David, “Linear Accelerators, Radio Astronomy, and Australia’s Search for International Prestige, 1944-1948,” Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 27, pt 2, 299-317 (1997).

Orchiston, Wayne, “John Bolton, Discrete Sources, and the New Zealand Field-trip of 1948,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 541-47 (1994).

Orchiston, W. & B. Slee, “Ingenuity and Inititative in Australian Radio Astronomy: The Dover Heights ‘Hole-in-the-Ground’ Antenna,” Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 5, 21-34 (2002).

Roberts, J. A., “Some Memories of John Bolton from Caltech and Early Years at Parkes,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 561-67 (1994).

Robertson, Peter, Beyond Southern Skies: Radio Astronomy and the Parkes Telescope, (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1992).

Robertson, Peter, Wayne Orchiston, & Bruce Slee, “John Bolton and the discovery of discrete radio sources,” Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 17, 283-306 (2014).

Savage, Ann, “Wild, Woolley and Savage—or how John Bolton and I went Hunting for Quasars and QSOs,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 589-97 (1994).

Stanley, G. J., “Recollections of John G. Bolton at Dover Heights and Caltech,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 507-16 (1994).

Sullivan III, W.T., Classics in Radio Astronomy (D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1982).

Sullivan III, W.T, ed., The Early Years of Radio Astronomy: Reflections Fifty Years after Jansky’s Discovery (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1984).

Sullivan III, Woodruff T., “The Beginnings of Australian Radio Astronomy,” Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 8, 11-32 (2005).

Sullivan III, Woodruff T., Cosmic Noise: A History of Early Radio Astronomy (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 2009).

Westerhout, Gart, “The Early History of Radio Astronomy,” in Education in and History of Modern Astronomy, ed. by R. Berendzen (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 198, 211-18).

Westfold, K.C., “John Bolton—Some Early Memories,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 535-39 (1994).

Whiteoak, J.B., “John Bolton as a Pioneer of OH Spectroscopy,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 577-84 (1994).

Wild, J. P., “History of Australian Astronomy: The Beginnings of Radio Astronomy in Australia,” Proc. Astron. Soc. Aust. 7, 1, 95-102 (1987).

Wild, J.P., M. Price, R.N. Manchester, M.J. Dinn, & S.C.B. Gascoigne, “Some Reminiscences of John Bolton,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 497-505 (1994).

Search ADS for works about Bolton

Other References: Scientific

Payne-Scott, Ruby, D.E. Yabsley, & J.G. Bolton, “Relative Times of Arrival of Solar Noise on Different Radio Frequencies,” Nature 160, 256-57 (1947).

Bolton, J.G. & G.J. Stanley, “Variable Source of Radio-Frequency Radiation in the Constellation of Cygnus,” Nature 161, 312-13 (1948).

Bolton, J.G. & G.J. Stanley, “Observations on the Variable Source of Cosmic Radio Frequency Radiation in the Constellation of Cygnus,” Australian Journal of Scientific Research A 1, 58-69 (1948).

Bolton, J., “Discrete Sources of Galactic Radio-frequency Noise,” Nature 162, 141-42 (1948).

Bolton, J.G. & G.J. Stanley, “The Position and Probable Identification of the Source of the Galactic Radio-Frequency Radiation Taurus-A,” Australian Journal of Scientific Research A 2, 139-48 (1949).

Bolton, J.G., G.J. Stanley, & O.B. Slee, “Positions of Three Discrete Sources of Galactic Radio-Frequency Radiation,” Nature 164, 101-02 (1949).

Bolton, J.G. & K.C. Westfold, “Structure of the Galaxy and the Sense of Rotation of Spiral Nebulae,” Nature 165, 487-88 (1950).

Bolton, J.G. & K.C. Westfold, “Galactic Radiation at Radio Frequencies. I. 100 Mc/s Survey,” Aust. J. Sci. Res. A 3, 19-33 (1950).

Bolton, J.G. & K.C. Westfold, “Galactic Radiation at Radio Frequencies. III. Galactic Structure,” Aust. J. Sci. Res. A 3, 251-64 (1950).

Bolton, J.G. & K.C. Westfold, “Galactic Radiation at Radio Frequencies. IV. The Distribution of Radio Stars in the Galaxy,” Aust. J. Sci. Res. A 4, 476-88 (1951).

Bolton, J.G., “Radio Astronomy at U.R.S.I.,” Observatory 73, 23-26 (1953).

Bolton, J.G. & O.B. Slee, “Galactic Radiation at Radio Frequencies. V. The Sea Interferometer,” Austr. J. Phys. 6, 420-33 (1953).

Bolton, J.G., O.B. Slee, & G.J. Stanley, “Galactic Radiation at Radio Frequencies. VI. Low Altitude Scintillations of the Discrete Sources,” Austr. J. Phys. 6, 434-51 (1953).

Bolton, J.G., K.C. Westfold, G.J. Stanley, & O.B. Slee, “Galactic Radiation at Radio Frequencies. VII. Discrete Sources with Large Angular Widths,” Aust. J. Sci. Res. A 7, 96-109 (1954).

Bolton, J.G., G.J. Stanley, & O.B. Slee, “Galactic Radiation at Radio Frequencies. VIII. Discrete Sources at 100 Mc/s between Declinations +50° and –50°,” Aust. J. Sci. Res. A 7, 110-29 (1954).

McGee, R.X. & J.G. Bolton, “Probable Observation of the Galactic Nucleus at 400 Mc./s,” Nature 173, 985-87 (1954).

Bolton, J.G., “Distribution of Radio Stars,” Observatory 76, 62-64 (1956).

Bolton, J.G., “Radio Astronomy of Galaxies,” PASP 68, 477-94 (1956).

Bolton, J.G. & J.P. Wild, “On the Possibility of Measuring Interstellar Magnetic Fields by 21-cm Zeeman Splitting,” Ap.J. 125, 296 (1957).

Radhakrishnan, V. & J.G. Bolton, “21-cm Absorption Studies of Galactic Radio Sources,” Astronomical Journal 65, 498 (1960).

Bolton, J.G. & B.G. Clark, “A Study of Centaurus A at 31 Centimeters,” PASP 72, 29-35 (1960).

Wilson, R.W. & J.G. Bolton, “A Survey of Galactic Radiation at 960 Mc/s,” PASP 72, 331-47 (1960).

Bolton, J.G., “Radio Telescopes,” in G.P. Kuiper & B.M. Middlehurst, eds., Telescopes. Stars and Stellar Systems, vol. 1 (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1960; 1969), pp. 176-209.

Bolton, J.G., F.F. Gardner, & M.B. Mackey, “A Radio Source with a Very Unusual Spectrum,” Nature 199, 682-83 (1963).

Bolton, J.G., F.F. Gardner, & M.B. Mackey, “The Parkes Catalogue of Radio Sources Declination Zone –20° to –60 °,” Austr. J. Phys. 17, 340-72 (1964).

Bolton, J.G., K.J. van Damme, F.F. Gardner, & B.J. Robinson, “Observation of OH Absorption Lines in the Radio Spectrum of the Galactic Centre,” Nature 201, 279 (1964).

Robinson, B.J., F.F. Gardner, K.J. van Damme, & J.G. Bolton, “An Intense Concentration of OH near the Galactic Centre,” Nature 202, 989-91 (1964).

Gardner, F.F., B.J. Robinson, J.G. Bolton, & K.J. van Damme, “Detection of the Interstellar OH Lines at 1612 and 1720 Mc/sec.” Phys. Rev. Lett. 13, 3-5 (1964).

Bolton, J.G., F.F. Gardner, & M.B. Mackey, “The Parkes Catalogue of Radio Sources, Declination Zone –20° to –60°,” Australian Journal of Physics 17, 340-72 (1964).

Bolton, J.G., F.F. Gardner, R.X. McGee, & B.J. Robinson, “Distribution and Motions of OH Near the Galactic Centre,” Nature 204, 30-31 (1964).

Bolton, J.G., Margaret E. Clarke, Allan Sandage, & P. Véron, “Identifications of Six Faint Radio Sources with Quasi-Stellar Objects,” Ap.J. 142, 189-90 (1965) [erratum].

Bolton, J.G., Margaret E. Clarke, & R.D. Ekers, “Identification of Extragalactic Radio Sources between Declinations –20° and –44°,” Australian Journal of Physics 18, 627-33 (1965).

McGee, R.X., B.J. Robinson, F.F. Gardner, & J.G. Bolton, “Anomalous Intensity Ratios of the Interstellar Lines of OH in Absorption and Emission,” Nature 208, 1193-95 (1965).

Bolton, J.G. & Jennifer Ekers, “Identification of Radio Sources between Declinations –20° and –30°,” Australian Journal of Physics 19, 275-77 (1966).

Clarke, Margaret E., J.G. Bolton, & A.J. Shimmins, “Identification of Extragalactic Radio Sources between Declinations 0° and +20°,” Australian Journal of Physics 19, 375-87 (1966).

Bolton, J.G. & Jennifer Ekers, “Further Identification of Radio Sources between Declinations 0° and 20°,” Australian Journal of Physics 19, 471-73 (1966).

Bolton, J.G. & Jennifer Ekers, “Identification of Strong Extragalactic Radio Sources in the Declination Zone 0° to –20° ,” Australian Journal of Physics 19, 559-64 (1966).

Bolton, J.G. & Jennifer Ekers, “Further Identification of Strong Extragalactic Radio Sources in the Declination Zone 0° to –20° ,” Australian Journal of Physics 19, 713-15 (1966).

Bolton, J.G., et al, “Radio and Optical Data on Fifteen Quasi-Stellar Objects,” Ap.J. 144, 1229-31 (1966).

Bolton, J.G., “Identification of Radio Galaxies and Quasi-Stellar Objects,” Nature 211, 917-20 (1966).

Bolton, J.G. & T.D. Kinman, “Radio and Optical Data on Twelve Quasi-Stellar Objects,” Ap.J. 145, 951-52 (1966).

Bolton, J.G. & Jennifer Ekers, “Suggested Identifications for Weak Extragalactic Radio Sources between Declinations 0° and –20°,” Australian Journal of Physics 20, 109-16 (1967).

Arp, H.C., J.G. Bolton, & T.D. Kinman, “A Quasi-Stellar Object with a Redshift of 2.22 and an Unusual Absorption Spectrum,” Ap.J. 147, 840-45 (1967).

Merkeligjn, Jeannette K., A.J. Shimmins, & J.G. Bolton, “Accurate positions and some optical identifications for 67 radio sources between declinations +20° and +27°,” Australian Journal of Physics 21, 523 (1968).

Kinman, T.D., J.G. Bolton, R.W. Clarke, & Allan Sandage, “Radio and Optical Data on Sixteen Quasi-Stellar Objects,” Ap.J. 147, 848-50 (1967).

Bolton, J.G., “Accurate Positions of Identified Radio Sources,” PASP 80, 5-15 (1968).

Shimmins, A.J., J.G. Bolton, & J.V. Wall, “Counts of Radio Sources at 2,700 MHz,” Nature 217, 818-20 (1968).

Searle, Leonard & J.G. Bolton, “Redshifts of Fifteen Radio Sources,” Ap.J. 154, L101-L104 (1968).

Bolton, J.G., “Extragalactic Radio Sources,” Astronomical Journal 74, 131-38 (1969) [Henry Norris Russell Lecture for 1968].

Bolton, J.G. & J.V. Wall, “Large Variations in the Brightness of Some Quasi-Stellar Objects,” Astrophysical Letters 3, 177-79 (1969).

Wills, D. & J.G. Bolton, “Improved Positions and Some Optical Identifications for 451 4C Radio Sources between Declinations 4° and 20°,” Australian Journal of Physics 22, 775-812 (1969).

Bolton, J.G. & J.V. Wall, “Quasi-stellar Objects in the Parkes 2700 MHz Survey: The Selected Regions and the ±4° Declination Zone,” Australian Journal of Physics 23, 789-815 (1970).

Bolton, J.G., J.V. Wall, & A.J. Shimmins, “Some Identifications for Weak Sources in the Parkes Catalogue for Declinations +20° to –20°,” Australian Journal of Physics 24, 889-98 (1971).

Shimmins, A.J., J.G. Bolton, B.A. Peterson, & J.V. Wall, “Identification of Southern Quasi-Stellar Objects,” Astrophysical Letters 8, 139-43 (1971).

Shimmins, A.J., J.G. Bolton, B.A. Peterson, & J.V. Wall, “Identification of Southern Quasi-Stellar Objects. II,” Astrophysical Letters 10, 105-08 (1971).

Peterson, Bruce A. & J.G. Bolton, “Redshifts of Southern Radio Sources,” Ap.J. 173, L19-L21 (1972).

Browne, I.W.A. Ann Savage, & J.G. Bolton, “Redshifts for Southern Quasars,” MNRAS 173, 87P-91P (1975).

Peterson, B.A., J.G. Bolton, & Ann Savage, “Identification of Southern Quasi-Stellar Objects. V,” Astrophysical Letters 17, 137-40 (1976).

Savage, Ann, J.G. Bolton, & A.E. Wright, “Identification of Southern Radio Sources—II,” MNRAS 175, 517-23 (1976).

Bolton, J.G., B.A. Peterson, B.J. Wills, & D. Wills, “Spectroscopy of QSO Pairs,” Ap.J. 210, L1-L3 (1976).

Savage, Ann, I.W.A. Browne, & J.G. Bolton, “Redshifts of Southern Quasars,” MNRAS 177, 77P-81P (1976).

Savage, Ann, J.G. Bolton, & Alan E. Wright, “Identification of Southern Radio Sources—III,” MNRAS 179, 135-41 (1977).

Savage, Ann, J.G. Bolton, K.P. Tritton, & B.A. Peterson, “Redshifts for 24 optically selected QSOs,” MNRAS 183, 473-77 (1978).

Savage, Ann & J.G. Bolton, “Optically selected QSOs in two 25 Square Degree Fields 02h00m, –50°00' and 22h04m, –18°55',” MNRAS 188, 599-607 (1979).

Wall, J.V., Ann Savage, A.E. Wright, & J.G. Bolton, “Selected Area Surveys at 5 GHz. I. Catalogue for the 22h, –18° Region,” MNRAS 200, 1123-34 (1982).

Savage, Ann, J.G. Bolton & J.V. Wall, “Selected Area Surveys at 5 GHz. II. Optical Identifications for the 22h, –18° Region,” MNRAS 200, 1135-41 (1982).

Search ADS for works by Bolton

Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Bolton, J.G. “Radio Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology,” Griffith Observer 21, 14-20 (1957).

Bolton, J.G., “The Quasar Quest,” Astronomical Insights, ed. P. Pockley (Australian Broadcasting Commission, 1970), 23-30.

Bolton, J.G., “The Changing Universe” Australian Physics 8, 129-33 (1976) [11th Pawsey Memorial Lecture].