Jodrell Bank Observatory

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Date of Submission: 27/01/2012
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
State, Province or Region:
Cheshire, England
Coordinates: N53 14.5 W2 18.7
Ref.: 5676

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The Jodrell Bank Observatory, the proposed nomination, which is part of the University of Manchester's School of Physics and Astronomy, is dominated by the monumental Lovell Telescope, the first large fully steerable radio telescope in the world - which still operates as the 3rd largest on the planet. The telescope is 76m in diameter and stands 89m high. Despite its age (53 years in 2010), it is now more powerful than ever and remains at the forefront of Astrophysics research, working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to observe distant galaxies and objects such as Pulsars and Quasars, far out across the Universe. The Lovell Telescope sits in a fenced compound on a 35 Hectare site that includes both spaces open to the general public (the ‘Discovery Centre') and spaces that are used solely for Astrophysics research. The research space is home to three other radio-telescopes (including the 25m diameter ‘Mark II' telescope) and the purpose-designed ‘Control Building', which is now the hub of the UK's national network of radio telescopes ‘e-MERLIN'. The proposed site also includes several other original buildings.

The radical developments in Astrophysics generated by the emergence of Radio Astronomy are overlaid on the landscape of the Jodrell Bank Observatory site. Experiments began in 1945, using WWII radar equipment to study meteor showers. Astronomers then began building the world's largest radio telescopes in succession. The Transit Telescope (1947), made the revolutionary first identification of a radio object outside our own galaxy - the great nebula in Andromeda (1950). Subsequently it was replaced by the Lovell Telescope, (1952-1957). Its first act was to track the carrier rocket of Sputnik I - witnessing the dawn of the Space Age - the only instrument in the world then capable of this, though in fact it works predominantly on scientific research. At the forefront of Astrophysics since its inception, it is world leading in the research of quasars, pulsars, gravitational lensing and in the development of interferometry.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Jodrell Bank Observatory is a unique site which reflects the heritage of pure science with the authenticity of ongoing scientific research and provides accessibility to the general public. Founded in 1945, Jodrell Bank Observatory was a pioneer of a completely new science: the exploration of the invisible universe using radio waves instead of visible light, thus creating a new awareness of the Universe of which we are a part. The new radio telescopes discovered previously undreamt of things - quasars, pulsars, gravitational lenses and the fading glow of the Big Bang, and allow us to see out to galaxies outside our own and back in time almost 14 billion years to the origin of the Universe itself. This has resulted in a philosophical shift as radical as the realisation that the Earth orbits the Sun : that our Sun is one of 100 billion stars in our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, and that our own Galaxy is one of 100 billion galaxies in the known, expanding, Universe.

The Lovell Telescope is a feat of master engineering, inspired by a creative scientific genius that encapsulates the move from the lone scientist to modern ‘Big Science' - cooperative endeavours that push back the frontiers of knowledge. Jodrell Bank currently does just this as it acts as the hub of the UK's e-MERLIN network of radio telescopes.

Criteria met:

(i) The Jodrell Bank Observatory, and the Lovell Telescope in particular, is a masterpiece of human creative genius creating the then-largest radio telescope in the world which transformed our understanding of the universe and captured the imagination of a generation

(ii)Jodrell Bank reflects the interchange of human values leading to the international development of radio-astronomy as a major scientific discipline which has transformed our understanding of the universe. The Observatory demonstrates the development of the team approach to modern ‘Big Science'.

(iv) The Lovell telescope and other structures on the site are outstanding examples of a technological ensemble which exemplify the transition from optical astronomy to modern Astrophysics, which has allowed us to see out to the edges of the known universe.

(vi) The Jodrell Bank Observatory is directly associated with the establishement of the idea that our place in the Universe is defined by our position on a small rocky planet orbiting a star that is one amongst 100 billion in our Galaxy - and that our Galaxy, the Milky Way, is one amongst 100 billion in the known Universe.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Integrity: At Jodrell Bank, world leading scientific research sits alongside scientific history. The proposed boundaries include all the features and attributes of Outstanding Universal Value. The location of the first experiments at the site (the ‘Botany Huts'), the position of the Transit Telescope (now the site of the Mark II telescope), and the original Control Building coexist with the Lovell Telescope and the remnants of equipment long abandoned. The fabric of the Lovell Telescope still incorporates both the original supporting framework and its first collecting dish. Scientific developments have required the refinement of these, with the addition of further supporting girders and a new reflecting surface (nested in the original). However, with a great deal of care and commitment from Jodrell Bank staff, the primary structure has been retained throughout. Worn out components are currently replaced with others made to original designs.

Authenticity:Jodrell Bank is both a monument to past achievements and a living research institution with high authenticity in both respects. The priority for the Jodrell Bank Observatory is research. and much of its authenticity lies in the continuing use of the site for its original purpose. Paradoxically, this has ensured that the Lovell Telescope has been preserved as a ‘living' structure for over 5 decades (extremely rare for a scientific instrument). All Jodrell Bank's radio telescopes are operated and maintained by a dedicated team of engineers, who keep them at the forefront of scientific research.

Comparison with other similar properties

There are a number of historic radio telescopes, some of which are older than the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank, but none which are as iconic. The Lovell telescope was also the first fully to be fully steerable.

The Jodrell Bank site is one of the earliest planned sites for radio-telescopes and many of the earliest features or their locations are extant and recognisable. This gives it significance over and above other sites in the world.