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Observing the Giacobinids meteor shower of 1946


Work on meteors at Jodrell Bank: Manning Prentice
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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Now, Prentice was a solicitor in Suffolk, but he was a remarkable observer. He was a desperate observer of... of meteors and he... he was also quite famous for having discovered new nova, Nova Herculis, I think in, in the 1930s, and I said, 'Well, what happened, how did you discover that?' He said, 'Well, I was taking a rest from observing meteors and then after a few minutes, I began to sit down observing again, and I noticed there was something wrong with the head of Draco'. And he then phoned the Royal Greenwich Observatory in the middle of the night and they observed the early stages of the nova. I mean, this generated enormous interest and a leader in The Times about the value of amateur astronomers.

Anyhow, by that way I was put in touch with Prentice and thereby hangs a very important part of our early history at Jodrell because Prentice... he... he said that he would... could he come up and see what we were doing? He would come up in... in August when there was a very important meteor shower, the Perseids meteor shower, so I said I'd be delighted to see him, and you know, I expected him to arrive with a lot of equipment and was amazed when the... when the nice man drove up, he stayed here, he drove up in... in an open Morris car and in the back of the car was not an expensive lot of apparatus, but an enormous globe and... and a flying suit. So that was the beginning of an important series of observations and the first thing we did was to observe the... the Perseids meteor shower in August of... 1940, 1946. Well, I... I would sit in the trailer and looking at the cathode ray tube and Prentice would sit outside in the deck chair, wearing a flying suit with a big board in front of him and a piece of string and a pencil, and he... he would shout when he saw a meteor and I would also shout when I saw an echo.

Well, now, Prentice was a brilliant observer. He... I... I did not know and never have known a more successful obsever. He... and in those days there was very little ambient light about and on good nights we could observe meteors down to the sixth magnitude. And I... I was soon out with Prentice, also wearing one of the flying suits, sitting in the deck chair and that is how I learned about the sky and, you know, he... he would tell me everything or he... he knew every... nearly every star, down to the fifth or sixth magnitude and his method was when he observed a meteor streak, he would stretch a piece of string along the line of the meteor and record on... in his notebook, the... the star near which the... the streak began and where it ended.

Well, as you know, the... the meteors appeared from what appeared to be a radiant and this was in Perseus and rose about... I suppose, just before midnight and there was a wonderful, memorable experience taking part with Prentice sitting out on those beautiful, warm nights and learning about the stars and helping to observe the meteors. Well, the answer was that most of the meteors we were observing were associated with echoes on the cathode ray tube and you will find a paper in the monthly notices dealing with... with that work.

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: Jodrell Bank, Suffolk, Nova Herculis, Royal Greenwich Observatory, The Times, Manning Prentice

Duration: 4 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008