The Lovell Telescope presents a new face to the Universe


After many months of unseen work, the University of Manchester's giant Lovell Telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire is again scanning the skies with a brand new, pristine white, surface. After two summers of work, the installation and painting of the new galvanised steel surface has been completed so that the telescope now presents a new face to the world. This is a major milestone in a 32.5 million upgrade programme funded by a grant from the Government and the Wellcome Foundation.

With a much more accurate pointing system, installed as part of the upgrade, the telescope is now performing better than at any time in its 45-year life.

Professor Andrew Lyne, Director of Jodrell Bank said that "he was delighted to have our flagship instrument back in use and looked forwards to the rejuvenated telescope keeping the observatory at the forefront of astronomical research for many years to come." Next summer will bring the final phase of the upgrade in which each of the 340 panels that make up the 76m diameter surface will be adjusted to make the whole surface follow the optimum parabolic shape to an accuracy of between 1 and 2 millimetres. When this final task is completed, the telescope will have its frequency range quadrupled so allowing a wide range of new science to be carried out.

Sir Bernard Lovell, first Director of the Observatory and instrumental in the building of the telescope, watched as the new surface was revealed. Sir Bernard said that "he had never expected the telescope to have an operational life of more that 15 years and was immensely pleased to see it still in use. It is truly magnificent." The new Lovell Telescope will be used to discover new distant pulsars, study the formation of stars in our own galaxy and seek out faint radio galaxies and quasars in the far reaches of the Universe.

In addition to its use as a single telescope, the Lovell Telescope is a key element of the UK's MERLIN high-resolution radio-imaging National Facility. The upgrade will more than double the sensitivity of MERLIN and open up exciting new areas of astrophysical study producing images whose detail exceeds that of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The Lovell telescope is also regularly linked to telescopes in Europe and around the globe to make observations with the highest resolution in all astronomy. The upgraded telescope will also be able to play a significant role in the future expansion of these activities into space. However, as in the past, the most important and exciting discoveries by the telescope will be those which are totally unpredictable.

High resolution images of the new 76-m Lovell Telescope can be found at: www.jb.man.ac.uk/news/newface/

Background Information:

The University of Manchester's giant 76-metre (250ft) Lovell radio telescope at Jodrell Bank is probably the most famous working scientific instrument in the land and is widely regarded by the public as an icon of the very best achievements of British science and technology. For over 45 years, the telescope, still the third largest fully-steerable radio telescope in the world, has played a major role in astronomical research due to its large collecting area and great flexibility. Equipped with state-of-the-art receiver systems, the telescope is now 30 times more sensitive than when it was first built. In recent years it has played a leading role in many fields of astronomy, including the detection and study of a new population of pulsars and the discovery of the first gravitational lens. It is also currently participating in the most sensitive search ever for signals from extra-terrestrial intelligence.

The Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF) is a 3750 million [pounds Sterling] partnership for the improvement of University research infrastructure between the Wellcome Trust, the Office of Science and Technology and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Details can be found on the Wellcome Trust website at: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/1/biosfgjif.html

The grant has been administered by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) website at: http:/www.pparc.ac.uk

The upgrade package has four main elements, the first three of which are now compete:

1) New reflecting surface

The present surface panels have been replaced by new galvanised steel plates. Attachment is with self tapping screws to avoid the distortions induced in the original surface by spot welding. This work has been undertaken by SHAL Engineering of Chesterfield.

2) New pointing control system:

The present drive and control system has been replaced by state-of-the-art technology to increase the precision of the positional control. This provides independent control of all the individual drive motors and enables the telescope to follow a radio source to an accuracy of 10 arc seconds, corresponding to one 200th of the diameter of the Moon.

3) Refurbishment of the track and foundations:

Remedial work has been carried out on the surface layer of the concrete foundations and the outer azimuthal track, laid when the telescope was first built, has been renewed.

4) Surface adjustment scheduled for Spring 2003.

Using modern electronic surveying followed by holographic profiling techniques, the new surface will be precisely measured and then set to the optimum parabolic shape to an accuracy of between 1 and 2 mm. This is about 4 times more accurate than the original surface and allows the operational wavelength range of the telescope to be increased by a similar amount.

An illustrated overview of the work of the Jodrell Bank Observatory can be seen on the World-Wide-Web at: http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/booklet/

MERLIN (Multi Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network) is one of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world. It is operated by the University of Manchester on behalf of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and is the radio astronomy cornerstone of the United Kingdom's astronomy programme. MERLIN is a sensitive network of 7 telescopes distributed over central England; several at and near Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, one at Knockin near the Welsh border, one at Defford in Worcestershire and the most distant located just outside Cambridge. MERLIN produces radio images with the same level of detail as that achieved optically with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. More information can be found at: http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/merlin

The radio telescopes of MERLIN often participate in joint observations with other large telescopes in Europe and across the world. Using a technique known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), in which the signals from each telescope are recorded on large magnetic tapes and then replayed later on special purpose data processors, astronomers can synthesize a telescope with a diameter of up to 12,000 km. This allows them to produce radio images hundreds of times more detailed than the Hubble Space Telescope produces using visible light. More details on the European VLBI Network (EVN) can be found at: http://www.jive.nl/jive/evn

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