So. I’m an astrophysicist…kinda sorta. Although I have never personally used a radio telescope myself (optical, sure, loads) I really quite like the look of them. Over the years, I have seen I think all of the major telescopes in the UK, excepting the Big Daddy: Jodrell Bank.
Luckily, a couple of weeks ago we were summoned up norf for a wedding, so we made a quick trip to Jodrell Bank so we could finally see it. And, as seems to be the usual for when I visit a radio observatory, the weather was dismal and rainy. So far so usual (it was the same for my visits to Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station and Mullard Radio Observatory at Cambridge). Radio observatories are generally located in fairly remote and desolate places, which only adds to their appeal for me, to be honest, and Jodrell Bank was no exception.
The first thing you see on arrival is a sign imploring you to turn off your mobile phone reception. This is so that the radio signal from your phone doesn’t interfere with their detection equipment. Mobile phones and car ignition systems are strong sources of radio interference.
A cool thing you can see in one of the visitor’s centre rooms is this display that shows the waveform of the current radio source, and the coordinates that the telescope is currently looking at. In this photo, the telescope is slewing, so it is moving to look at a new target.
Finally, there is the telescope itself. It is…quite large. In fact it was rather mesmerising to watch such a large metal behemoth of a thing constantly moving around, observing new objects. The gears were constantly grinding away, and the dish slooowly tilting this way and that. It was really quite cool to see, and I recommend a trip.