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Jodrell Bank 2009

This video covers much of what was in our first Jodrell Bank video but with new footage we filmed for the Jodrell Bank Observatory segment of the 100 Hours of Astronomy webcast. Now you'll see historical footage, inside the control room, and some shots of our engineers and technicians at work.


Tim (): Jodrell Bank Observatory is in the heart of the English countryside. Its story began when Bernard Lovell returned to the University after the war to carry out research into cosmic rays. He was using radar to try to detect signals these charged particles leave as they crash into the Earth's atmosphere.

Tim (): Construction of the telescope began in 1952 and was completed in 1957 just in time for the launch of the world's first artificial satellite; Sputnik 1.

Tim (): In fact the first thing this telescope did was detect the rocket, that carried Sputnik into space, using a radar. It became world famous as a result and people were very interested in what the telescope was doing. We built a Visitor Centre here in the 1960s and visitors have come here ever since to hear about the astronomy that the telescope carries out.

Tim (): So the Lovell Telescope is a radio telescope. It collects radio waves arriving from outer space. With it we can see the invisible universe. If we had radio sensitive eyes we'd look up now and we'd be able to see through the clouds - very useful for doing astronomy from England - we'd be able to see out into space during the day just as much as we can do at night.

Tim (): Arching above us would be the Milky Way. It would be the most obvious thing in the sky. Now with your eyes using visible light what you see are stars. With a radio telescope we don't see stars - they're quite faint - what we see is the stuff between the stars. We see radio waves coming from electrons spiralling around the magnetic field of the Galaxy. We see the remnants of exploded stars. We see distant quasars - galaxies with supermassive black holes at their cores.

Tim (): The dish collects those waves and brings them together and concentrates them at the focus where we have receivers that turn those waves into an electrical signal that we then analyse.

Tim (): Now those signals are so weak that the noise in the receiver itself would drown out the signal. So, to prevent that, we cool the receivers down to something like -250°C.

Tim (): Here, the Mark II telescope at Jodrell is connected together with the Lovell and five other telescopes spread across England to make the MERLIN array.

Tim (): MERLIN is the UK's national facility for radio astronomy and is used by astronomers from all over the world. The seven radio telescopes are spread across 217km and achieve a sharpness of view equivalent to that that can be a achieved with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Tim (): For an even sharper view we can connect together the MERLIN telescopes with other telescopes across Europe and across the world in VLBI experiments.

Tim (): Let's go take a look in the observatory control room.

Tim (): The control room is the heart of observatory operations. This is the control desk for the Lovell telescope. It's staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Tim (): Apart from ensuring the normal operation of all the telescopes, one of the controllers particular concerns is the weather. If the wind speed gets too high, and a telescope dish is tipped over, then the force can be so great that the structure itself can be at risk of being destroyed.

Tim (): At any given time the controller is looking after the operation of nine radio telescopes. Whether they're working individually on exotic objects like pulsars or together in arrays like the MERLIN system or even VLBI.

Show Credits

Presenter:Tim O'Brien
Sound Recording:Stuart Lowe
Camera:Anthony Holloway
Editors:Tim O'Brien & Stuart Lowe
Opening Sequence:Mike Peel
Music:Susan M. Lockwood
Special Thanks to:Christopher Mance, Eddie Blackhurst, Bob Watson, Colin Baines & Mike Peel
Cover Art:The Lovell Telescope and Dr Tim O'Brien
Website:Stuart Lowe

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