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A critical year for the MK I Radio Telescope


A Committee of Enquiry and the telescope continues to grow
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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1956 opened in a most awful way, although I must say, worse was still to come. The condition, before any further progress could be made, was that there should be a Committee of Enquiry, under an independent Chairman, and this was convened to be held in the university, on... I think between January 18th and 19th, in 1956. Husband and I were summoned too, of course, to attend this meeting. The original Chairman was to be a retired Admiral, who, when he was informed of the details, he asked to be excused, and in the end, the Vice Chancellor of the university, who was then Professor Mansfield-Cooper, agreed to take the Chair.

It was my very great good fortune that on the Committee were people, whom, again, through my wartime experience, that I had known. One was Smith-Rose, who was then a very important figure in the Radio Research Board arm of the government, and the other was the aeronautics engineer who had told me about the Tacoma Bridge disaster. And I, in fact, had much scientific, and indeed, moral support on that committee. The members of the committee came to Jodrell on January 16th, I think. And on 17th and 18th, Husband and I waited in an ante room, the first day, and the second day, and we were independently summoned, to be... answer the questions from this Committee. There was then much agonising meeting because the final decision was that the university wished to complete the building of the telescope. This was a tremendous act of faith on the part of the university because they themselves were going to be involved with finding a very, very large sum of money.

But anyhow, with all this uncertainty, nothing seemed to stop the building of the telescope. The trunnion towers were completed, the great gun racks were put in position, and the trunnion bearings, and 19 miles of scaffolding were erected round the telescope on which the 16 cantilevers of the new, redesigned bowl were to be held. And so, while all these discussions about who was going to bear this enormous extra cost went on, the building of the telescope went on without interruption, and it became extremely exciting, in 1956, which opened in this disastrous way, one could see the great bowl of the telescope steadily taking place, supported by this huge mass of scaffolding around the perimeter.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Megan Argo Alastair Gunn

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Tags: Tacoma Bridge, Jodrell Bank, Charles Husband

Duration: 4 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008