Happy Birthday The TelescopePosted: August 25, 2009
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When I opened Google this morning it told me that today is the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s demonstration of his fancy
new improved device for looking at faraway things – the telescope.**
I thought I should mark this in some way and I decided the best way to do so would be by talking about my favourite telescope, the Lovell Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank in Manchester.
This is the Lovell. It doesn’t look much like the instrument Galileo demonstrated but it works on exactly the same principle: light (in this case in the form of radio waves) is collected and focused to make an image of some distant astronomical source. It is the third largest steerable radio dish in the world at 76.2 metres in diameter and it has been operating since it was completed in 1957. It’s construction was masterminded by Sir Bernard Lovell, back in the days when astronomers would turn up in a muddy field with a big box of wires and build their own detectors (it’s nothing like that now!)
I’ve used this telescope. At that time this meant going to visit it at Jodrell Bank to collect the images. I loved this; the office I was put in was right next to it so I could stare at it all day (not good for productivity) and I would walk around it at lunchtimes. I think the reason this is my favourite is the shear scale of it. It towers over you and can be seen for miles around. The whole thing is just such an impressive feat of engineering.
I think I’ll finish with two more pictures. This is it stowed i.e. not observing (it’s the safest position for it to be in case of high wind).
And this, with the building in the foreground, gives a good idea of what’s it’s like to stand by it and see it loom over you.
Does anyone else have a favourite?
** As has been pointed out in the comments by someone a lot more knowledgeable than me about these things, I should make it clear that Galileo didn’t invent the telescope himself. Also, Google apparently got the date wrong – see the comments for the full timeline!