The gargantuan Lovell Telescope made important early contributions to radio astronomyGetty Images By Sam WongJodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, UK, which pioneered the development of radio astronomy in the mid-20th century, has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Telescopes that detect radio waves instead of visual light give us a very different view of the cosmos, enabling the discovery of quasars, pulsars and cosmic microwave background – the afterglow of the Big Bang. Jodrell Bank was established in 1945 by Bernard Lovell, an astronomer at the University of Manchester. The site is home to four active telescopes, but its most famous is the 76-metre diameter Lovell Telescope, which was the largest steerable dish radio telescope in the world when it was completed in 1957. Advertisement The criteria for its selection by UNESCO acknowledge that “it is a masterpiece of human creative genius related to its scientific and technical achievements” and “it is an outstanding example of a technological ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in human history.” Radio telescopes were used to track early space probes in the 1960sWorld History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo The World Heritage List designation honours the work of Lovell and the early scientists at Jodrell Bank as well as the research that continues today, Teresa Anderson, director of Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, said in a statement. “Receiving this recognition will help us tell their story and the story of the communities connected to the site both across the UK and worldwide.” Apart from its contributions to astronomy, the Lovell telescope was used to track the Soviet and American probes during the space race. In 1966, when Luna 9 made the first soft landing on the moon, the Lovell Telescope intercepted the transmission of its photos of the lunar surface, allowing the British press to publish them before the Soviets. Today, Jodrell Bank is the headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array, a global project to create the world’s largest radio telescope. The observatory welcomes over 185,000 visitors a year to its education centre and, since 2016, has hosted the annual Bluedot festival of music and science. If you’re attending this year, keep an eye out for New Scientist’s stand at the Bluedot festival. Birth of an icon New Scientist reported on the Lovell telescope’s inauguration in August 1957, calling it “Britain’s greatest scientific instrument”. “Astronomers are finding that its performance exceeds their highest expectations. Scientifically, the telescope is a success, and great credit is due to Professor Bernard Lovell who planned the project when radio astronomy was still in its infancy. However, there were complaints about the spiralling costs of its construction. “Financial controversy must not be allowed to detract from the brilliance of the project. Britain now leads the world in this most recent branch of astronomy. The scrutiny of the sky from our cloud-covered island is now more promising than it has been since Herschel’s day. “The Jodrell Bank telescope has been built to do things which are otherwise impossible. It will be able to extend our knowledge of the universe farther than ever before. But our lead in radio astronomy, although clear, is not unchallenged. “While strict control of government money is clearly necessary, we should indeed be open to ridicule if, having a telescope which is the envy of the world, its programme were impeded for shortage of funds. Radio astronomy has replaced nuclear physics as our chief intellectual sounding board. Who can set a limit to its value?” More on these topics: astronomy space
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