Happy Birthday The Telescope

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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.

The Lovell Telescope

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!

4 Comments on “Happy Birthday The Telescope”

  1. Thony C. says:

    As has been pointed out in several places in the intertubes Google got it wrong!

    Galileo’s first presentation of his instrument to Venetian noblemen from the
    tower of St.Mark happened on Aug 21st.

    On Aug 24th he officially offered the instrument to the government of Venice
    (the Doge and the Senate).

    On Aug 25th the Senate confirmed Galileo as teacher in the University of
    Padua and increased his salary to 1000 “fiorini”.

    As I lecture on the history of the telescope I have lots of ‘favourite’ ones but if puhed I will settle for the first functioning reflecting telescope in the world from Isaac Newton.

    By the way I was concieved on the Jodrell Bank Estate!

  2. Thony C. says:

    Galileo’s demonstration of his fancy new device for looking at faraway things – the telescope.

    This statement is at best misleading and at worst simply wrong. The telescope was of course invented by Hans Lipperhey a German spectacle maker in Middelburg in Holland, who first publicly demonstrated his new instrument sometime between the 25th and the 29th of September 1608 at the Court of Prince Maurice of Nassau in Den Haag.

    The first person to utilise this new invention to make astronomical observations was the Englishman Thomas Harriot who made telescopic sketches of the moon with a telescope on the 26th July 1609.

    • Emma says:

      You’re quite right and thanks for correcting me. I’ve tried to update the post to make this clearer. My fault for trying to find a way of using my pictures of the Lovell Telescope and not thinking enough about the words around it!

  3. […] with sciency bits featuring their fancy new visitor centre and the giant Lovell Telescope (the dish that I’d happily take home with me if I could). I’ve been meaning to write about this since I got back, but I couldn’t figure out how […]

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