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Monday, 26 March, 2001, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Jodrell Bank gets a facelift
Jodrell Bank Jodrell Bank
The Lovell Telescope was built in the 1950s
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The world-famous Jodrell Bank radio telescope in the UK is getting an upgrade to allow it to compete with more modern instruments.

Jodrell Bank Jodrell Bank
The old surface needs replacing
Work has started to replace the old steel surface panels of the telescope, now known as the Lovell Telescope after Sir Bernard Lovell who fought to build it in the 1950s.

The new, higher precision surface, coupled with a sophisticated control system to be installed later in the year, will result in a telescope able to observe over a wider range of frequencies.

Looking far beyond our own galaxy, the improved Lovell Telescope will conduct a survey to investigate radio galaxies that formed soon after the birth of the Universe.

Active future

New galvanised steel plates will be attached to the telescope with self-tapping screws to avoid thermal distortions of the type induced in the present surface, which is held together by spot-welds.

Jodrell Bank Jodrell Bank
Professor Andrew Lyne lifts a panel
Jodrell Bank's director, Professor Andrew Lyne, said: "The upgrade to the Lovell Telescope will extend the capabilities and operational life of the telescope, keeping it at the forefront of astronomical research with as much promise and potential as when it was first built."

The Lovell Telescope, in Cheshire, is still the third largest, fully steerable radio telescope in the world.

For over 40 years, it 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, it is 30 times more sensitive now than when it was first built.

Astronomers say the upgraded Lovell Telescope will allow them to learn more about the evolution of stars, from their formation in clouds of dust and gas to the often cataclysmic explosions that end their lives and some times produce ultra-compact objects called pulsars.

Finely tuned

The telescope will also have an enhanced role as part of an array of telescopes positioned across the country.

Jodrell Bank Jodrell Bank
A holographic technique allows the position of each panel to be determined
The Lovell Telescope is a major element of the Multi Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (Merlin) that combines the data received from a network of seven widely scattered radio telescopes.

The upgraded Lovell will more than double the sensitivity of Merlin, allowing much fainter and hence more distant objects to be detected in deep space.

When each new panel is in place, Lovell will be fine tuned using a holographic profiling technique. This works by comparing observations of an object in space made by the Lovell Telescope with similar observations made by smaller more accurate telescopes.

The new surface, which will be completely in place by next year, will be set to optimise the efficiency of the telescope and so allow operation at radio wavelengths much shorter than is currently possible.

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See also:

17 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Jodrell Bank faces uncertain future
15 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Movie captures dying star
06 Nov 98 | Sci/Tech
Astronomers find their 1000th pulsar
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