Happy Birthday to Sir Bernard Lovell, 31 August 1913 – 6 August 2012. This English astronomer is best known for his role in the construction of the first radio telescope at Jodrell Bank (near Manchester), which led to his position as the first director of the Jodrell Bank Experimental Observatory.


The first telescope was made onsite using available equipment based on wartime radar techniques. With limited funds and equipment at their disposal, many creative techniques were involved in the construction. For example, the size of the parabola was determined by the height of the available ladder. This first experiment is now almost unrecognisable as a radio telescope, but the data obtained from this initial project was crucial to the design and construction of the celebrated Jodrell Bank telescope. Lovell was central to the construction of the first fully steerable radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, which was completed in 1957. With an impressive bowl diameter of 250 feet, the Lovell Telescope was the largest radio telescope in the world until 1971, and it is still the third largest in the world (for interesting facts about the Lovell telescope check out the Jodrell Bank website).


In 1958 Lovell was the lecturer for the BBC’s “The Reith Lectures” series. His lectures on the “Origin of the Universe” are well worth listening to. High quality recordings are available online: for the first lecture click here, for the second lecture click here.

Anyone interested in knowing more about Jodrell Bank and the construction of the Lovell telescope should read Lovell’s own account: Voice of the Universe: Building the Jodrell Bank Telescope (New York: Praeger, 1987).

Feature image photo credit