The most prominent feature of the Observatory is the Lovell Telescope, the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world on completion in 1957, and which still operates as the third largest on Earth. The Telescope stands, to this day, as both an international icon of science and engineering, and as a working research instrument that inspired the construction of others around the world. It now constitutes a huge, internationally-recognised, public landmark. While it is the most iconic part of the site, it becomes universally significant when combined with the other sites at Jodrell Bank.
The Telescope, which is a Grade I listed structure (by Historic England), stands 89 metres high (the same height as the Big Ben clock tower in Westminster) dominating the Cheshire plains. The Telescope was conceived by Sir Bernard Lovell, founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, and designed by engineer Charles Husband. The main reflector dish is a colossal 76 metres in diameter and is paraboloid in shape.
Huge engineering challenges included how to move 2,000 tonnes with accuracy at a quarter of an inch per minute, how to avoid resonance frequency (that had destroyed the Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge in 1940), and how to compensate for the changing weight distribution as the dish was tilted and it turned. Having successfully overcome these challenges, the Lovell Telescope’s extraordinary and innovative design has been copied all over the world.
CONSTRUCTION OF THE LOVELL TELESCOPE
The Lovell Telescope was built in 1957. Photo courtesy of Jodrell Bank.