News & Events

Telescope's Tyre Change is Wheel Success

4th January 2008

Jodrell Bank engineer Phil Clarke sizes up the task
Jodrell Bank engineer Phil Clarke sizes up the task
click to enlarge
original - 594 kB
click to enlarge
original - 678 kB
click to enlarge
original - 1479 kB
click to enlarge
original - 737 kB
click to enlarge
original - 1260 kB
click to enlarge
original - 1404 kB
click to enlarge
original - 946 kB
click to enlarge
original - 714 kB
click to enlarge
original - 1053 kB
Photography by Ed Swinden

Changing a car wheel at the roadside can be tricky enough.

But popping a spare onto a 3,200-ton radio telescope is a whole different story.

Engineers at The University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire needed more than just a jack and a brace when a steel tyre on the famous Lovell radio telescope cracked.

It wasn't a case of popping down to the local garage either - the wheel had to be removed and a new tyre specially fitted.

For several weeks the telescope was jacked up - although this didn't stop astronomers making their observations at the landmark site, which boasts three other telescopes plus another five spread across England in the giant MERLIN network.

Jodrell Bank engineer Chris Scott, who was in charge of overseeing the astronomical pit stop said: "The telescope has 64 wheels, each weighing over a ton, so I'm glad to say this is not a job we have to do every week!"

Chris is hoping the new wheel lasts as long as the old one, which had been in constant use since the Telescope was completed in October 1957.

Engineer John Kitching added: "This is actually only the second time a tyre has cracked.

"Last year we had to replace the whole wheel, but we also had a spare tyre manufactured so this time the job was far quicker."

Dr Richard Davis, the Jodrell Bank astronomer responsible for looking after developments of the Lovell Telescope, said: "It's wonderful to see the telescope back in operation after its enforced layoff these last few weeks. "

"Although it's 50 years old, it is actually more capable than ever and plays a significant role in world astronomy as the third-largest steerable telescope and the heart of the UK's national radio astronomy facility."

For over 50 years the giant Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank, a Grade I listed building, has been a familiar feature of the Cheshire landscape and an internationally renowned landmark in the world of astronomy. It is named after Sir Bernard Lovell, 94, who originally conceived the idea for the telescope and oversaw its construction.

Its first act was to track the rocket that carried Sputnik I into space on 4th October 1957. Ever since it has been quietly probing the depths of space, a symbol of our wish to understand the universe in which we live. Even now, it remains one of the biggest and most powerful radio telescopes in the world, spending most of its time investigating cosmic phenomena which were undreamed of when it was first conceived.

It takes a huge 5,300 litres of paint to give the famous telescope three coats of paint.

The Lovell Telescope will play a key part in Jodrell Bank's new e-MERLIN telescope due to see first light later this year.

e-MERLIN is actually seven radio telescopes spread 217km across England and now connected by optical fibres.

When it becomes operational it will be the world's most powerful array of radio telescopes, capable of probing the furthest reaches of the universe.

Notes to editors

Media opportunities are available.

For more information please contact:
Alex Waddington
Tel 0161 275 8387

MERLIN is a National Facility operated by the University of Manchester on behalf of the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Lovell Telescope Facts and Figures:

Mass of the telescope 3200 tonnes Focal ratio (F number) 0.30
Mass of bowl 1500 tonnes Height of elevation axis 50.5 metres
Diameter of bowl 76.2 metres Maximum height above ground 89.0 metres
Collecting area 4560 square metres Radius of wheel girders 38.5 metres
Surface area of bowl 5270 square metres Outer diameter of railway track 107.5 metres
Focal length 22.9 metres Amount of paint for 3 coats 5300 litres
Latitude 53:14:13.2 (ddmmss) Longitude 00:09:14.04 (hhmmss)