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The MERLIN system

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No funding for the 400ft telescope
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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The Labour government was then in power, and the Secretary of State for, who dealt with science, was a lady, I’ve forgotten her name, but it’s well known, and she came to Jodrell and we demonstrated this model to her and she was very encouraging and in fact, the, this government had arranged for us to have a, a press meeting to announce that we were going to build this telescope at Meifod at the, the cost of £4 million, 4 million in 1972 or ’73 prices. Alas, one day before this press conference was to take place, Mr Wilson, who was Prime Minister, decided to go to the country for entirely political reasons and so the, the meeting was cancelled, the, the, he was defeated at the election and the Conservative government achieved office and from their point of view, quite rightly, because of the financial state of the country, they suspended all large expenditures, including the expenditure, which we were going to incur on this new radio telescope in Meifod. They, they had, this must have taken place in the, in the early autumn, and by Christmas, they, they lifted the ban and we were told to get a new price for the telescope. I’m afraid by that time the price had risen well above 4 million and then began a period which I really wish to forget because I, I, I regret having entered into the period that then followed, because we, we still in contact with the DSIR, they suggested we reduce the size to something more reasonable, like 350ft but- and so we did, but the escalation, the cost of living went up, the cost of materials went up and we could not get the price down to something reasonable, and eventually the, the Germans had built their, their steerable telescope at Effelsberg and the- then interest in joining with Europe, the arguments began, that we ought to join up with Europe and use their telescope as well as the one at Jodrell, so in that way, eventually, we closed the whole project, and only the beautiful model remains. It was at Jodrell for some time, but it has disappeared and I don’t know where it is now, so the 400ft telescope was never built. Now in some ways I’m sorry because it would have been a powerful instrument on, on, on a waveband, which has been, was, was being very largely neglected, as the interest in radio astronomical observation moved to higher and higher frequencies, and I think in fact now, it’s realised that some of the lower frequency observations- I think the Dutch have built a new telescope, which they propose to hold to use in the region of less than 100 megahertz.

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: Alastair Gunn Megan Argo

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.

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.

Tags: Labour Party, Jodrell Bank, Meifod, Wales, Conservative Party, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Europe, Harold Wilson

Duration: 3 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008