Address: Jodrell Bank. The University of Manchester, Macclesfield SK11 9DL

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Phone: +44 (0) 1477 571766

 

Jodrell Bank History

The existence of the site is pretty much down to one man, Sir Bernard Lovell. Lovell was a physicist and astronomer who worked on cosmic ray research at Manchester University until the outbreak of the Second World War. At the time he was in his mid-twenties and was recruited to work on radar systems to be installed in aircraft. It was during his work that he noticed the occasional unexplained echo being picked up by his equipment, and when the war finished, he began to investigate these echoes using old army equipment.

He was based in the city of Manchester, but soon found that the local trams were interfering with his sensitive machinery, so he looked for a local site that would give him the peaceful background that he needed. The Botany Department of the local university had some land 25 miles away at a place called Jodrell Bank, which was named after the Jauderell family who were previous owners.

He started in 1945 and equipped the site by mainly using military equipment that had became obsolete and began tracing the echoes that he’d previously encountered. He found that they were from ionized meteor trails (shooting stars). The Botany Department huts that were used at the time can still be seen today.

By 1947 the project had gained momentum and his team had by now developed a 218ft radio telescope, by far the biggest in the world. But whilst it revolutionised space research, created a lot of world interest and was enormously powerful, Lovell recognised the limitations of its lack of mobility. He thus sought funds to build Mk 1, a 250ft fully steerable radio telescope. This was built by 1957 and is known as the Lovell Telescope. It was run by an analogue computer and its construction involved using the gun turrets from HMS Sovereign and HMS Revenge.

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite into orbit. It was called Sputnik 1 and the Mk 1 telescope was able to track it as well as tracking other space probes over the years. In 1966 the telescope picked up pictures of the moon landing bug LUNA 9 and was able to publish pictures before the Soviet Union released them.

In 1964, a second fully steerable telescope was built and was called Mk 2. It was the world’s first telescope to be controlled by digital computer and was built on the site of the original 218ft telescope. The computer was upgraded in 1971 and new aluminium panels were fitted to its surface in 1987. By the 1990’s the surface was corroded and repair work was done in 1999 after a £2m grant from the government and the Wellcome Foundation.

The telescopes form part of the national MERLIN telescope network.

The original visitor centre was built in 1971 and was replaced in 2011 by the new centre. The 35 acre arboretum was created in 1972.

 

Jodrell Bank Visit

Jodrell Bank as a day out is what you make of it. Unlike some other landmarks that are universally liked, this site will appeal to some, be loved by others and lack excitement for others who were after something a little more dynamic. The telescope itself doesn’t function for the public, which is a bit of a downer and not a good start when you’re looking to be entertained.

There is a shop and restaurant and they have a 3D theatre that is a novelty as you watch school type films through 3D specs.

The arboretum’s nice, certainly in season and on a warm summer’s day – but it does lose a bit when muddy. The children are catered for with the discovery centre, play area and various trails and treasure hunts, and should have fun.

They certainly have the facility to attract people here through the telescope, but then need to entertain them once they are here. There are various signs around and there are circles around the grounds made of plastic discs as dots and each represents a planet. If they had a normal telescope available, at least you could have a look through it for a few hours and be satisfied. As it is, you look at the large structure, share a few comments with fellow visitors, then wander around the grounds. It’s quite possible there are telescopes there and I was too busy wiping the mud from my shoes to spot them.

In summary, some may love it, and some may not, but whatever, you can’t help being impressed by the size of these structures.