Preserving the Horn Antenna for Future Generations

Sarbmeet Kanwal, PhD


Brian Swimme predicts in his book, Cosmogenesis, that the Horn Antenna in New Jersey, where the light from the Big Bang was first detected, will one day become the Bethlehem of the new cosmic story. When I found out that my town was getting ready to rezone the land so a developer could dismantle the antenna and build public homes on the site, I knew it was time to take action. After much effort and 7000 signatures, it is now looking like our efforts to preserve this historic site have a good chance to succeed, though much still remains to be done.


The Holmdel Horn Antenna is a 20 ft. wide antenna shaped like a horn and designed to detect faint sources of microwave radiation. It is located on top of Crawford Hill, the highest point of Monmouth County, in the town of Holmdel, New Jersey. In 1964, two Nobel Prize winning astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, while using the antenna for other research, accidently detected the left over radiation from the explosive Big Bang origin of our universe. Scientists refer to it as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).

This landmark discovery was humanity’s first direct encounter with its source and proved to be the decisive evidence needed to remove all doubts about how our universe began. This revelation led to the piecing together of a new cosmic story of how the universe evolved over 13.8 billion years to give rise to a self aware species we call humans. Brian Swimme, in his book Cosmogenesis, calls the site of the antenna “the Bethlehem of the new cosmic story”. People, who perceive the story as a sacred narrative that holds wisdom for our species, experience a deep connection to the source in the presence of the antenna.

A couple of years ago the hill on which the antenna stands was sold to a developer who intends to disassemble the antenna and build private homes on the land. I happen to live in Holmdel, a couple of miles from the antenna. When I learned of this possibility, I immediately wrote a letter to the Mayor asking that the antenna be preserved and opened to the public as a historic landmark. I never got an answer from him. Late last year when it became clear that the process of rezoning had already started, a land preservation group in Holmdel started a petition to preserve the hill and the antenna. As a result of my efforts and that of many others, we now have close to 7000 signatures from people all over the world.

On April 11, 2023, the “Save the Horn” group asked me to deliver a short 3-minute public comment to the town committee emphasizing the significance of the historic site and the instrument that stands on it. The script that I used for my short speech is appended below. The words that I used were picked up by the local media and quoted in an April 14 newspaper. The article, copied verbatim, is also appended for your reading. A link to the online version is included.

I am really happy to share with you that the tide seems to be turning. The Holmdel Mayor declared that they he is committed to preserving the antenna once they clear out some legal issues around its ownership.

More good news has come in the days after I made my public comment. The congressman of my district (Rep. Andy Kim) has put in a request for 4 million dollars to the federal government to buy the property so that it can be made into a public park with access to all (see the funding request below). Also I was able to get a physicist friend of mine to get Neil deGrasse Tyson to agree to write a letter to our town mayor. We are in touch with his personal secretary and accept this to happen soon.

I am absolutely delighted that our efforts are bearing fruit. I am sure you will be happy to hear this as well. My deepest gratitude goes to those who signed the horn antenna petition. It does not hurt to have the universe on your side when you place an intention into the space of possibilities.

Project Name: Holmdel Horn Antenna Preservation

Amount Requested: $4,000,000

Intended Recipient:  Holmdel Township, 4 Crawfords Corner Road, Holmdel, NJ 07733

Project Description:The funding would be used to purchase the Holmdel Horn Antenna property, a National Historic Landmark (NHL), preserve the former Bell Telephone Laboratories (a.k.a. Bell Labs) site, and restore the historic satellite communications and radio telescope equipment previously used in the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, one of the most important scientific discoveries in physical cosmology, which provided evidence confirming the “Big Bang” theory of the creation of the universe. This project is an appropriate use of taxpayer funds because it will benefit local and regional conservation efforts, protect the land and existing trails, expand recreational opportunities, prevent the demolition of a National Historic Landmark, and preserve and restore the space for the enjoyment of the community, region and broader world. Preserving this historic site and the Horn Antenna serves the educational, scientific, and recreational needs of the community and is anticipated to reap economic benefits in attracting people nationwide once the property is transferred from private ownership and access is made available to the public.


Sarbmeet’s Public Comment to Holmdel Town Committee:

My name is Sarbmeet Kanwal and I live at 4 White Cedar Lane in Holmdel. After getting a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Caltech, I worked at Bell Labs for 30 years. I now teach Astronomy and Physics at Brookdale. I am a frequent public speaker on popular topics in science and have authored a TED-talk titled Chaos to Cosmos. I also founded an interfaith youth education program for which I received a Humanitarian Award from the Monmouth County Human Relations Commission.

You are well aware of the scientific & historical significance of the horn antenna. Albert Einstein’s equations and Edwin Hubble’s observations pointed in the 1920s to a Big Bang start of our universe, but it was the light detected by the horn antenna that finally confirmed our origin story and provided us with a new narrative for how the universe evolved.

What many people don’t realize is that what we discovered on Crawford Hill is comparable to the kind of revelations that led to the faith traditions we so cherish and honor today. The 14 billion year old photons that were captured by the antenna in 1964 were racing over Crawford Hill straight from the fire that gave birth to our universe. It was on that hill, a couple of miles down the road, that we humans first became aware that we are bathed every moment by the light that emanated from our source.

When I take my students and colleagues to visit the site, I tell them I am taking them on a pilgrimage to a sacred place. When I relate the story of how every atom in their body was first fused in the big bang fireball, then cooked in the cores of stars in our galaxy, then baked in the molten center of Earth, before it congealed into our flesh and blood, they are no doubt filled with awe and wonder. But they are also uplifted and inspired. They want to devote their careers and lives to making sure that what nature has wrought over 14 billion years is not destroyed because of some frivolous cravings for power and profit.

Imagine if we could to get the horn antenna declared a world heritage site. Imagine travelers and students converging from all over the world to a public park devoted to the story of our origin. One day this site could become a compelling symbol of hope, kindling in us the will power to solve the most intractable problems of our world and perhaps saving us from a bleak future that now seems to be looming in front of us.

For me the site of the horn antenna is akin to the hill on which Moses received the 10 commandments or the Bodhi tree under which Buddha received his enlightenment. To forgo an opportunity to preserve and enhance such a landmark is to rob our grandchildren of a new Bethlehem, a place where they could come to renew their spirits and immerse themselves in a the telling of a sacred story. Thank You.


Link to full article whose text copy is appended below:

Holmdel can’t save Big Bang theory’s Horn Antenna unless it solves mystery of who owns it

Olivia Liu, Asbury Park Press, April 14, 2023


HOLMDEL – On top of the highest peak in Monmouth County lies the Horn Antenna, a large aluminum structure instrumental in the confirmation of the Big Bang theory.

That’s no small thing. “It was the light detected by the antenna that confirmed our origin and gave us a new story of cosmic evolution.” said resident Sarbmeet Kanwal, who worked at Bell Labs for 30 years, during Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting.

“The 14-billion-year-old photons that were captured by the antenna in 1964 were racing over Crawford Hill straight from the fire that gave birth to our universe,” Kanwal said. “It was on that hill, a couple of miles down the road, that we humans first became aware that we are bathed every moment by the light that emanated from our source.”

The antenna became a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and the two astronomers who discovered the photons, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, were awarded a Nobel Prize in physics.

But in recent years, as Nokia of America Corp. sold the land on which the Horn Antenna resides, legal questions about it came under scrutiny. Mainly, who owns the Horn Antenna, and can the antenna stay at its current home, behind a closed gate at 791 Holmdel Road?

On Tuesday, the township filed a complaint in state Superior Court looking for answers. The current owner, Crawford Hill Holding LLC, and the contract purchaser, Burke Contracting LLC, are named in the suit as well as Nokia. You can see the full complaint at the bottom of this story.

From the beginning of time:

Nokia sold its research building along with 43 acres, in which the Horn Antenna resides, for nearly $3.6 million in early 2021.

Holmdel Township officials have sought assurances that if the land is developed, the Horn Antenna will be preserved. But Crawford Hill and Burke have left the question of ownership fuzzy. In October 2022, they told the township about language regarding the antenna within its sale contract, according to the complaint, that seems to give Nokia, the seller, some remaining power over the antenna.

“In the event buyer intends to relocate the Horn Antenna, buyer shall notify seller of such new location,” the language states. “Buyer understands and agrees that relocating the Horn Antenna from the current designated site would require a new application to have the new site designated as a historical site. In addition, if buyer makes a determination that it no longer wants the Horn Antenna, buyer shall contact seller and give seller the first right to remove and relocate the Horn Antenna.”

In this undated handout photo (below) released by Alcatel Lucent, Bell Labs’ Robert Wilson, left, and Arno Penzias, 1978 Nobel Prize winners for their discovery of the “Big Bang” theory of the universe’s creation, are photographed in front of the famous Horn Antenna in Holmdel, NJ From the ubiquitous technology made possible by Bell Labs’ invention of the transistor and laser to its scientists helping prove how the universe began, the lab has greatly influenced technology and culture. (AP Photo/Alcatel Lucent)

In November 2022, the township authorized the planning board to determine if the property could be considered “an area in need of redevelopment for non-condemnation purposes,” and in March 2023, the planning board voted to study the area. In April 2023, the township wrote to Crawford Hill Holding and Burke to request a sworn statement that attested to Crawford Hill Holding’s “complete ownership and control of the Horn Antenna.”

According to the complaint, “the township was advised that Crawford Hill Holding would be retaining two new attorneys in anticipation of litigation” and “Crawford Hill Holding and Burke have never provided the township with any definitive information concerning the ownership and control of the Horn Antenna, nor have they provided any information other than the clause within the sale contract.”

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Mayor DJ Luccarelli said, “The Township Committee is committed to preserving the Horn Antenna.

Mike Collins, attorney for the township, said that in addition to determining the ownership of the antenna, “the township is asking the court to determine if it may potentially exercise eminent domain powers as it pertains to the Horn Antenna.”

Collins said the township believes the Horn Antenna “is fixed to the property” and Crawford Hill Holding and Burke Contracting have indicated that Nokia of America Corp. have a contractual right to relocate the Horn Antenna.

Collins said a judgment could take months to a year. 

‘Frivolous cravings for power and profit’

Kanwal, the former worker at Bell labs, now teaches astronomy and physics at Brookdale Community College. He said he takes his students on pilgrimages to the site.

“When I relate the story about how every atom in their body was first fused in the Big Bang fireball, then cooked in the cores of stars in our galaxy, then baked in the molten center of the earth, before it congealed into our flesh and blood, they are certainly filled with awe and wonder. But they are also uplifted and awe-inspired,” Kanwal said. “They want to devote their careers to making sure that what nature has wrought over 14 billion years is not destroyed because of our frivolous cravings for power and profit.”

He asked the Township Committee to preserve the antenna on the site for the next generations to learn and be inspired by it.


 Olivia Liu is a reporter covering transportation, Red Bank and western Monmouth County. She can be reached at [email protected].