Jodrell Bank

The 76m Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.
The 76m Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

The Jodrell Bank Observatory (originally the Jodrell Bank Experimental Station, then the Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories from 1966-1999) is located near Congleton, Cheshire in the north west of England. The observatory is part of the University of Manchester and has played an important role in the research of quasars and pulsars. In 1979, scientists of Jodrell Bank announced the first detection of a gravitational lens; which confirmed one of Einstein's theories.

The observatory was established in 1945 by Dr. Bernard Lovell, who wanted to investigate cosmic rays after his work on radar in World War II. One of the telescopes of the observatory honours his name.


General information

The first radio telescope was built in 1947, but the famous "Mark I" telescope, at the time the largest steerable dish radio telescope in the world, 76.2 m (250 ft) in diameter, was constructed in the mid 1950s, becoming operational in the summer of 1957, just in time for the launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite. Jodrell Bank was the only installation in the world able to track Sputnik's booster rocket by radar, and the fame and income this brought in enabled the considerable construction debts to be paid off.

In February 1966, Jodrell Bank tracked the USSR unmanned moon lander Luna 9 and listened in on its facsimile transmission of photographs from the moon's surface. The photos were sent to the British press and published before the Soviets themselves had made the photos public.

The Mark I telescope has been updated twice, to allow greater sensitivity and make structural repairs. At the time of its construction in 1957, it was the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope and was only expected to have an operational lifespan of 10 years. It was therefore upgraded in 1970-71 and 2001-2003. In 1987, on its 30th anniversary, the telescope was renamed The Lovell Telescope in Sir Bernard's honour. A second radio telescope, the Mark II, was built at Jodrell Bank in 1964, with a diameter of approximately 25 metres (it's elliptical, not circular), while a third telescope, the Mark III, located some 20 miles away near Nantwich is part of the Jodrell Bank Observatory. Other radio telescopes are also located at the Jodrell Bank Observatory - one which is 42ft (13m) in diameter, and a 7m one which is generally used for undergraduate teaching purposes for students of the University. Webcams of these are available for viewing on the Jodrell Bank webpage.

Jodrell Bank Observatory is also the base of the Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN), a National Facility run by the University of Manchester on behalf of PPARC.

Visitor facilities

The much-visited site was planted as an arboretum by Sir Bernard. Jodrell Bank Arboretum houses the UK's national collections of Malus and Sorbus species and the Heather Society's Calluna collection, on 35 acres (140,000 m²). The arboretum also features a small scale model of the solar system, the scale being approximately 1:5,000,000,000. In 2005, as part of the SpacedOut ( project, Jodrell Bank became the location of the Sun in a 1:15,000,000 scale model of the solar system covering the UK.

There is an educational visitors' centre at the site. In 2003 the old science centre was demolished to make way for a new one, expected to open in approximately 2007. In the interim, visitor facilities are very limited. However, visitors have access to a new path wrapping around the telescope, approximately 20 m from the telescope's outer railway.

Statistics of the Lovell Telescope

         Latitude 53 deg 14 min 13.2 s north
         Longitude 2 deg 18 min 25.74 s west
Mass of telescope:                       3200 t
Mass of bowl:                            1500 t
Diameter of bowl:                        76.2 m
Surface area of bowl:                    5270 m&sup2
Collecting area of bowl:                 4560 m&sup2
Height of elevation axis:                50.5 m
Maximum height above ground:             89.0 m
Radius of wheel girders:                 38.5 m
Outer diameter of railway track:        107.5 m
Amount of paint for 3 coats of the bowl: 5200 L


  • 1945 - Bernard Lovell arrives at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire.
  • 1947 - The 66 m transit telescope is constructed.
  • 1949 - The transit telescope is used to make the first detection of radio waves from the nearby Andromeda Galaxy.
  • 1950 - Charles Husband presents first drawings of proposed giant, fully-steerable radio telescope.
  • 1957 - Mark I telescope becomes operational. It tracks the carrier rocket of Sputnik I; the only telescope in the West able to do so.
  • 1960 - Lord Nuffield pays the remaining debt on the Mark I and the observatory is renamed the Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories.
  • 1962 - As part of a radio-linked interferometer, the Mark I identifies a new class of compact radio sources, later recognised as quasars.
  • 1964 - The Mark II telescope is completed.
  • 1966 - The Mark I receives pictures from Luna 9, the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon.
  • 1968 - The Mark I confirms the existence of pulsars.
  • 1969 - The Mark I is used for the first time in a VLBI observation.
  • 1970/1 - The Mark I is upgraded and becomes the Mark IA.
  • 1976 - January storms bring winds of around 90 mph which almost destroy the telescope. Bracing girders are added.
  • 1979 - The first gravitational lens is discovered by the Mark IA.
  • 1980 - The Mark IA is used as part of the new MERLIN array.
  • 1986 - The first pulsar in a globular cluster is discovered. The Mark II telescope is given a new surface which is accurate to 1/3 mm.
  • 1987 - The Mark IA is renamed the Lovell Telescope after Bernard Lovell.
  • 1990 - The new 32 m Cambridge telescope is added to the MERLIN array.
  • 1992 - The MERLIN array becomes a national facility.
  • 1993 - At the request of NASA, the Lovell Telescope searches for the Mars Observer spacecraft.
  • 1998 - The Lovell Telescope begins participation with the SETI project.
  • 2000 - February - The Lovell Telescope searches for NASA's Mars Polar Lander
  • 2000/2 - The Lovell Telescope is resurfaced increasing its sensitivity at 5 GHz by a factor of five.
  • 2003 - December - The Lovell Telescope searches for the Beagle 2 lander on Mars.
  • 2004 - January - Astronomers from Jodrell Bank, Australia, Italy and the US discover the first known double pulsar.
  • 2004 - Minor scenes for the film of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are filmed at Jodrell Bank.
  • 2005 - February - Astronomers using the Lovell Telescope discovered a galaxy that appears to be made almost entirely of dark matter.
  • 2005 - March - Jodrell Bank becomes the centre of the World's largest scale model of the Solar System as part of the Spaced Out project.

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