Nobel Prize Medal of Man Who Discovered Cosmic Rays for Sale at Bonhams NY

Hess Nobel medal.jpgThe Nobel Prize Medal for Physics awarded in 1936 to the Austrian scientist who discovered cosmic radiation, Victor Hess, will be offered at Bonhams’ Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in New York on Wednesday June 7th. The medal, accompanied by its elaborate award document in its blue leather portfolio, is estimated at $300,000 to $500,000.

Before Hess’s ground-breaking discovery, scientists had assumed that radiation was emanating from the earth. A series of hot air balloon flights made between 1911 and 1913, in which Hess ascended into the atmosphere and measured the ionization, enabled him to prove the opposite. He demonstrated that the effect was stronger at higher altitudes than at ground level, indicating that the radiation being measured was not coming from naturally occurring radioactive elements on earth. Further experiments conducted during a solar eclipse, in which his measurements did not vary, ruled out the sun as a source of the phenomenon, and confirmed that these “rays” were coming from the vast expanse of space. This radiation would later come to be referred to as “cosmic rays,” and Hess’s discovery would open the door to vistas of space that are still being explored today, as scientists probe the outer reaches of the known universe.

In 1938, Hess fled Austria with his Jewish wife after the Anschluss with Nazi Germany incorporated the country into the Third Reich. He settled in the United States where he joined the faculty of Fordham University in New York, and enjoyed an illustrious career as a professor of Physics. 

Bonhams specialist Darren Sutherland said, “The solid gold Nobel medal and decorative document belonging to Victor Hess represent a high point in a long and distinguished career. They serve as a symbol of the selfless pursuit of knowledge by a devoted scientist whose discovery opened the door to the exploration of the outer universe.”

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