Exploration Beyond this Earth: Jodrell Bank Observatory

At the weekend I had the chance to visit the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, home to the Lovell telescope.

Lovell Telescope, Jodrell Bank

Jodrell Bank is a centre for Astrophysics for the University of Manchester involved with studies and projects including:

  • e-Merlin: Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network, an array of radio telescopes distributed around Great Britain
  • SKA project: Square Kilometre Array
  • ALMA: The Atacama Large Millimetre Array will be the largest observatory ever built operating at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths in the world
  • High performance computing
  • Virtual Observatory
  • Lovell Telescope: When completed in 1957 it was the largest steerable dish radio telescope in the world and is now the third largest.
Radio telescopes part of the eMerlin project

The visitors centre is highly informative, not only on the activities of Jodrell Bank but on the development of knowledge of the universe, and beyond, more generally. I particularly liked the information about crab nebula, don’t ask why, they were just very interesting images.  There are lots of hands on exhibits, and ways to interact and learn about scientific concepts, like how much heat our bodies radiate which could be monitored using an infra red camera (seen below):

For many visitors the highlight of the centre is the Lovell Telescope which it is possible to walk around (half way). Considering this is a 3200 tonne telescope, it moves with incredible ease and smoothness.

In it’s early years the telescope was a key instrument in many historical events:

  • Tracking Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite.
  • Tracking the Pioneer 5 probe.
  • Tracked the unmanned moon lander Luna 9

The BBC’s Sky at Night programme provides a great overview of the development, and uses of the telescope:

You can keep up to date with live telescope readings here, and you can even follow the Lovell Telescope on Twitter @LovellTelescope.

In the visitors centre, there was a map of the world observatories and this led me to think about the distribution of not only radio telescopes like Lovell, but more generally. The global distribution of observatories is displayed below:

World Map of Observatories

If you are in the Cheshire/Manchester area, you should definately consider making a visit to Jodrell bank, not only is an informative and frankly impressive site, the cafe is great too!

Cookie Monster cupcake at Jodrell Bank cafe

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