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The Massive Lovell Telescope At Jodrell Bank In Cheshire, United Kingdom

UK: Cheshire – Jodrell Bank

For many years I drove up and down the M6 motorway in the UK along the stretch from Birmingham to Manchester and saw the signs for Jodrell Bank. I would say to myself, one day I must go there. I have always had a love for physic, particularly astrophysics. I knew that Jodrell Bank had played an important role in the emergence of radio astronomy. This branch of astronomy uses radio waves emitted by objects in the cosmos which give off unique patterns of radio emissions that allow astronomers to get the whole picture of a distant object. Radio astronomers study emissions from gas giant planets, blasts from the hearts of galaxies, or even precisely ticking signals from a dying star.

The History of Jodrell Bank

Jodrell Bank Observatory, formerly Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories or Jodrell Bank Experimental Station, location of one of the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescopes, which has a reflector that measures 76 metres (250 feet) in diameter. The telescope is located with other smaller radio telescopes about 32 kilometres (20 miles) south of Manchester in the 

Immediately after World War II the British astronomer Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell, working at the University of Manchester’s botanical site at Jodrell Bank with war-surplus radar equipment, began research in radio and radar astronomy. Construction of the telescope began in 1952. Operation began shortly before the launching, on Oct. 4, 1957, by the Soviet Union of the first artificial Earth satellite (Sputnik I); and the satellite’s carrier rocket was tracked at Jodrell Bank by radar.

Most of the operational time at Jodrell Bank is devoted to astronomy rather than to tracking and communication, but the telescope has been part of the tracking network for the United States program of space exploration and monitored most of the Soviet accomplishments. The Jodrell Bank telescope transmitted the first photographs from the surface of the Moon, received Feb. 6, 1966, by the Soviet Luna 9 probe. In 1987 the 76-metre telescope was renamed the Lovell Telescope. It and another telescope at Jodrell Bank are two elements of a seven-telescope array, the Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN), which uses microwave links to connect the individual telescopes into a radio interferometer 217 kilometres (135 miles) in diameter.

In 2019 Jodrell Bank was recognised as a site of Outstanding Universal Value and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

Visiting Jodrell Bank

Finding Jodrell Bank was very easy. The main telescope looks like a massive satellite dish – so you can literally see it miles away ( the occasional tree gets in the way). The signs to Jodrell Bank were also very good, so there is little chance of getting lost.

The easiest way of getting there is definitely by car (or as part of a tour) and Jodrell Bank, by design is in the middle of nowhere. The reason for this is that people generate lots of radio noise – TVs, microwave ovens, mobile phones etc – that interfere with the signals coming from outer space. The main telescope is so sensitive it can pick up a mobile phone signal from the moon!

Once you arrive there is plenty of space to park.

We decided to go and look at the huge Lovell Telescope first. It is not until you stand next to it that you realise how massive the structure is. Incredibly, this telescope can change its azimuth (the angle to the ground) and rotate on tracks on its base. This allows it to track objects in space as they move around.

Sadly, you cannot climb up into the Lovell Telescope, but it was amazing to get up close to see it.

Right next to the Lovell Telescope is a small building with interactive multimedia exhibits that explains more about the work conducted at Jodrell Bank, up to the present time, and how radio astronomy works.

The massive Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, United Kingdom
The massive Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank
The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank is 76 metres (250 feet) in diameter and is used to detect radio signal from space
The Lovell Telescope is 76 metres (250 feet) in diameter and is used to detect radio signal from space

From the Lovell Telescope, we headed to the First Light Pavillion which had only been opened the month before we visited. 

The building itself is interesting, it was designed to have a low impact on the landscape – so it looks a bit like a bunker. The roof of the building has a lawn on top of it, so from the most angles the pavillion looks like a bump in the ground.

The inside of the Pavillion house a great multimedia exhibition hall that adults and children alike will love. It took about an hour to go around and look at all the exhibits – which were really well done.

As part of the entry fee you get to see two films inside the IMAX theatre inside the Pavillion. One of the films covers the history and operation of the Lovell Telescope and Jodrell Bank, the other show – which is given by one of the staff at the Pavillion explore the stars that we can see in the sky.

The recently opened First Light Pavillion at Jodrell Bank - Cheshire, UK
The recently opened First Light Pavillion at Jodrell Bank
The multimedia exhibits inside the First Light Pavillion at Jodrell Bank - Cheshire, United Kingdom
The multimedia exhibits inside the First Light Pavillion at Jodrell Bank

In summary …

We loved visiting Jodrell Bank – in fact, it exceed my expectations. I was just interested in seeing the mighty Lovell Telescope but visiting the exhibition galleries and the shows at the First Light Pavillion really made it a full experience.

This is probably not a great place to take very young children, but for older children, we think they would really enjoy the experience and it would definitely be educational.

A visit here would likely take about 2 to 3 hours but could be longer. There is a cafe and plenty of space for picnics.

Planning your visit to the Jodrell Bank

getting there Address

Bomish Ln, Macclesfield SK11 9DW, United Kingdom

getting there By Train

The most convenient station is at Macclesfield, which is on the West Coast Mainline from London Euston to Manchester. On arrival at Macclesfield you will then need to take a 20-minute taxi ride to the Jodrell Bank. The taxi rank is directly outside the main exit from Macclesfield station.

There is also a station in the nearby village of Goostrey, on the line between Manchester and Crewe. It is a 2.5 mile walk from there along narrow country lanes and so we advise booking a taxi for this part of the journey. Note, you’ll need to do this in advance as there is no taxi rank at the station.

getting there By car

Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre can be found just off the A535 between Chelford and Holmes Chapel. Junction 18 of the M6 and follow the tourist signs straight to the entrance, approximately 6 miles from the junction.

Please note that there is a car parking charge. Blue badge holders and coach parties are free.

Telephone:T:+44 1477 571766

Tuesday-Sunday 10am – 4pm with last admission at 3pm

Adult: £12.00
Concession: £10.00
Child: £8.00
Under 4: FREE

Best time to visit Jodrell Bank

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