A Telescopic Picture Of The Early Days

VOICE OF THE UNIVERSE Building the Jodrell Bank Telescope. Revised and updated edition. Bernard Lovell. Praeger Publishers. New York, 1987. 300 pp. $14.95 PS. The revised and updated version of Bernard Lovell’s 1968 book The Story of Jodrell Bank traces the growth of a true symbol of the modern space age—the radio astronomy observatory at the University of Manchester. It covers the early studies of meteor trails, development of the 250-foot radio telescope and its subsequent triu

Jan 25, 1988
John Findlay
VOICE OF THE
UNIVERSE

Building the Jodrell Bank Telescope. Revised and updated edition. Bernard Lovell. Praeger Publishers. New York, 1987. 300 pp. $14.95 PS.

The revised and updated version of Bernard Lovell’s 1968 book The Story of Jodrell Bank traces the growth of a true symbol of the modern space age—the radio astronomy observatory at the University of Manchester. It covers the early studies of meteor trails, development of the 250-foot radio telescope and its subsequent triumph in tracking Soviet and U.S. spacecraft. Three new chapters describe the progress made in radio astronomy during the last 20 years.

Lovell, founder and director of Jodrell Bank until his retirement in 1981, provides a vivid picture of the early days. The United Kingdom had a history of funding pure science in the universities, but the government at the time was struggling to recover from six years of war. Stubborn civil servants in the Treasury and here did not always agree with Lovell’s plans and priorities or with his ways of doing business.

Lovell got support from the university, but he often initiated changes that, for better or worse, required large sums of money. Sometimes the changes were wise, as was the case when he stiffened the telescope and improved the work surface after the 1951 discovery of the 1,420 MHz hydrogen-line radiation. But his plans continued to change after construction began, and every change meant more money. Lovell managed to work through these financial difficulties, however, and the Jodrell Bank telescope soon became the first in a series of valuable large instruments operating throughout the world.

Why should anyone want to read a revised edition of Lovell's story? It was originally published when the telescope was 10 years old. At 30, we have even more to learn from it. Large radio astronomy projects are planned or being built in Australia, India, Japan, the United States, the Soviet Union, Canada and Europe. Although conception, planning, design and execution generally run smoothly, there may be a risk of complacency. This book, therefore, should be. come required reading for the younger enthusiasts who want large instruments and may have to take the lead in bringing them about.

Findlay, a retired physicist, was
with the National Radio Astronomy Obsevatory in Charlottesville, VA from 1956-85.
His address is Millbank, Greenwoad, VA 22943.


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(The Scientist, Vol:2, #2, p.19, January 25, 1988)
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