Jodrell Bank

Manchester, England

A world-leading observatory that played a significant role in the Cold War, Jodrell Bank is a unique Manchester attraction and a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Jodrell Bank
- © Brian Rogers

WW2 and the Founding of Jodrell Bank

During WW2 Jodrell Bank's founder-to-be, physicist Bernard Lovell, worked on radar systems for planes. When the war ended he tried to continue his research in Manchester but found the electrical trams interfered with his equipment. This forced him to re-establish himself outside the city centre, at Jodrell Bank.

Jodrell has been used for academic purposes since 1939, but it wasn't until Lovell arrived there in 1945 that it became a base for astrophysical research.

Jodrell Bank
- © Neil Crane

The Early Days of Jodrell Bank

To begin with Lovell used Jodrell to investigate cosmic rays (high energy particle clusters that travel through space at almost the speed of light). Over time, he accumulated more and more ex-military hardware and shifted his focus towards radio waves from planets and stars.

In 1946 he was loaned a military searchlight, with which he discovered that meteors too could create temporary radio signals.

Jodrell Bank
- © Lee

Jodrell Bank Develops

In 1947 a zenith telescope, 'the Transit telescope', was built at Jodrell. Zenith telescopes point straight up and can be used to precisely measure star positions. At the time the Transit telescope was the largest radio telescope in the world.

It was later replaced by the even larger Lovell telescope. Measuring 76.2m in diameter and steerable using motor systems taken from old warships, the Lovell telescope was one of the most sophisticated ever to have been made.

Jodrell Bank
- © Lee

The Cold War at Jodrell Bank

During the Cold War, when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 satellite, the Lovell telescope was the only means the western powers had of tracking the satellite's movements.

In the years that followed it was used to monitor and control several different satellites and probes across distances ranging up to 8 million miles. This was far from its only purpose however. It was also used to keep track of the varying distances between the Moon and Venus, to observe star-forming regions of space and giant stars, and more.

Jodrell Bank
- © Gerald Murphy

Jodrell Bank into the Modern Day

Lovell served as the founder and director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics until 1980, when he was succeeded by Sir Francis Graham Smith.

During his tenure Lovell oversaw the development of further telescopes still, namely Mark I and Mark II. These were used to assist and compliment the work already being done by the Lovell telsecope. More telescopes were proposed but never came to fruition.

Since the 1980s Jodrell Bank has become the base of MERLIN, a network of telescopes across England and Welsh borders. It is also the planned home of SKA, a telescope that will be built in collaboration with 19 other countries and that, once complete, will be the largest in the world.

Visiting Jodrell Bank

Jodrell's first visitor centre opened in 1971, complete with a planetarium and a 3D cinema that would host simulated trips to Mars. Unfortunately, this was demolished due to asbestos in 2004.

A permanent replacement centre opened in 2011 and includes a Planet Pavillion, a Space Pavillion, a glass-walled cafe that looks out onto the Lovell telescope and landscaped gardens. It does not have an in-built planetarium, but a small inflatable one can often be found there.

In recent years Jodrell has become known for more than just science. Since 2016 it has hosted the annual Bluedot Festival, a music festival that specialises in electronic music. Kraftwerk, The Chemical Brothers, Bjork and Orbital are just some of the names to have graced its stages.

On top of this, Jodrell Bank has often been mentioned in pop culture. It has played a role in TV shows (Dr Who), novels (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and even a music video (ELO's 'Secret Messages').

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Secret City Manchester Treasure Hunts - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of Manchester.


What you need to know

Jodrell Bank
Bomish Ln, Macclesfield SK11 9DW
Tips before you visit