Monthly Archives: October 2014

Artie Aardvark Jaunts to Jodrell Bank


Last weekend I had my 15 minutes of Internet fame with a front page AMA about astronomy on Reddit.  Exciting times!  So in honor of that I decided to skip ahead and hand the mic off to Artie Aardvark, who’s been bursting to tell us all about his adventures in England a few weeks ago.

If you’re new to this blog, yes, Artie is an aardvark, and my group’s project mascot.  He comes with my on astronomy adventures, as he can explain what he sees far better than I could.  Enjoy!

Today is an exciting day: I am off to Jodrell Bank Observatory in England to see all the radio telescopes!  Jodrell Bank is one of the most important radio observatories in the world, with some of the biggest radio telescopes you can find anywhere.  It is south of Manchester in the country, with a lot of sheep and cows all around.  Look there in the distance- is that a radio telescope?


Time to turn off cell phones so they don’t interfere with the sensitive radio telescopes- we must be getting close!



Of course, once we get to the observatory it’s pretty obvious!

This is the Lovell telescope, which is the third biggest steerable radio telescope in the world.  Wow!  The dish is 250 feet across at the top, and they use it for a lot of research things like pulsars, which are the spinning cores of stars that exploded in what is called a supernova.  Astronomers study the neatest things!

Unfortunately I couldn’t see the telescope in action, as it was undergoing maintenance and it was stowed pointing straight up for this.  But I did find a model in the observatory showing just what the telescope would look like if you could see the top part.



Then I got to work, keeping an eye on some data coming in to the observatory…


Be careful though not to get too curious and be stuck behind this door in the control center!  This giant door looked like a safe to me, but was actually where a lot of equipment like the computer servers for the observatory are kept.  This is because they give off a lot of radiation in radio frequencies the astronomers are studying, so they have to be kept in a special vault to make sure the signals from them don’t get out.  Jodrell Bank still worries about a lot of things like that- the astronomers are forever complaining that you can’t have a wifi network for example!

(Editor’s note: the SKA office is next door to the observatory building though, and they have wifi. Conclude what you will!)


Here’s the observatory building from the outside- that “little” radio telescope isn’t all that little at all, as it’s 42 feet across!  Astronomers use it to monitor the Crab Pulsar, which is left over from a supernova explosion about a thousand years ago.  In fact, people all over Earth recorded seeing this explosion as there was a “guest star” in the sky!  The Crab Pulsar gives of all kinds of radiation to this day, and astronomers are studying the system constantly in order to learn more about young pulsars.


I also went for a walk towards the back of the building and saw radio telescopes everywhere!  This telescope is called Mark II, and was being repainted by workers when I visited. All telescopes have to be painted in England else they’ll rust, and astronomers choose white to reflect as much of the sun as possible from the dish.  Mark II isn’t actually used on its own much like the other telescopes, and instead is usually used with a bunch of other radio telescopes around the world networked together- a trick astronomers use to get more detailed images called interferometry.  Jodrell Bank is a huge center for a place to process all these signals.


There are all sorts of other telescopes to explore at Jodrell Bank though!  This one looked pretty crazy to me- it’s a test project to have a student telescope for students from the University of Manchester.  It’s hard for me to believe that radio telescopes can look like this, but they were in fact testing it when I visited by listening to radio signals from the sun!


All told, I had a really fun time visiting Jodrell Bank and seeing what radio astronomers do!  But all too soon it was time to go, and catch a train to London- Yvette promised to take me to the Greenwich Observatory next!  Oh boy!