Flamsteed Astronomy Society

Lovely arboretum (and the telescopes are great, too)

Flamsteed visit to Jodrell Bank — April 28-29, 2007

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What could be better than a walk on a very hot Sunday afternoon in Spring than a wander in a beautiful arboretum with a number of like-minded folk?  The answer, of course, is the same walk at Jodrell Bank, where the arboretum comes equipped with four fascinating radio telescopes, the largest of which is the Lovell Telescope (still the third largest radio telescope in the world).  Better still, on April 29, 2007, a lucky group of Flamsteed members had that walk with the guidance of the very charming, highly instructive and very modest Professor Ian Morison.

The choice of site for this exceptional range of telescopes and research astro-physicists was, however, dictated not by a love of beauty or trees but because the radio interference caused by trams in central Manchester drove Bernard Lovell, in his days as a researcher just after the war, to move his radar equipment out of the main university to this rural idyll at Jodrell Bank, about 20 miles away, which

already was in use by the University as an arboretum.  Ian Morison explained to us that Lovell (now, of course, Sir Bernard Lovell) had been interested in establishing whether the “echoes” he had seen on radar scanners during his wartime work were caused by cosmic rays, as he had suggested in a paper published at the time.  In his early work at Jodrell Bank (conducted from the comfort of a small shed) Lovell used a form of radio telescope constructed of wire-mesh spread across the ground and looking nothing like the great dish telescope that was later to bear his name.  He soon established that the radar echoes he had seen were caused by meteors not cosmic rays and thus an initial misinterpretation of data could be said to have started one of the most important developments in astrophysics in this country. 

Lovell soon dreamed of a telescope on a far grander scale and thus began the concept of constructing a massive dish radio telescope on the site.  When the initial plans were drawn up in 1950, the “Mark I” telescope (now the Lovell Telescope) was predicted to cost £120,000.  When given the go-ahead in 1952 the estimates had risen to £335,000. 

However, in the Autumn of 1955 the final cost was established as being £630,000.  The result was that, in August 1957, just as the telescope became operational, Lovell was heavily censured in a report by the Public Accounts Committee.  One can only imagine what mixed feelings must have been experienced by Lovell as his great dream came to fruition.  Then, just two months later, in October 1957,  the USSR launched Sputnik and Lovell’s dream was justified when the Mark I was found to be the only instrument in the West capable of tracking its progress. 

Around 25 Flamsteed members went for an overnight stay in Manchester before visiting Jodrell Bank on Sunday April 29.   They were splendidly hosted by Prof Ian Morison.  Judith-Anne MacKenzie takes up the story ...

Later, the Mark I, with the addition of a very early FAX machine borrowed from a newspaper office in Manchester, decoded signals transmitted by Lunar 9 and enabled the first publication of pictures of the surface of the moon.  Ian Morison and one of the newspaper’s photographers together developed the resulting pictures (it was a very early FAX!) and thus were among the first human beings to see “close up” pictures of another astronomical body.

The Flamsteed group in front of the Lovell Telescope

(pic: Pat Wainwright)

Copernicus marks the Sun in the Solar System layout model

(pic: Pat Wainwright)

Jane did a never-to-be-beaten deal with a Manchester City centre hotel.

Lovely staircase  (pic: Pat Wainwright)

If the devil cast his net ...

(pic: Pat Wainwright)