'Sleeping giant' Jodrell Bank starts to re-awaken

Coming back to life after lockdown- Jodrell Bank Credit: PA Pictures

The iconic Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire is taking its first major steps to resume operations after lockdown as part of what is probably the biggest ‘reboot’ in the history of astrophysics.

After the longest shut-down in their history, the first set of telescopes at the Cheshire-based station, run by Manchester University, are being switched on so they can once again contribute new and exciting data to the international science community.

Big projects that Jodrell is planning to re-join this summer include a programme to determine the mystery of how planets are formed – and testing the theory that dust and gases create pebble-sized matter that somehow bond together to create a single planetary rock.

The Mark II radio telescope at Jodrell has already successfully re-joined the European VLBI Network (EVN), a partnership of radio telescopes located in Europe but also Asia and additional antennas in South Africa and Puerto Rico. The EVN performs very high angular resolution observations of cosmic radio sources – and the only network of its kind capable of real-time observations.

The observatory is one of Cheshire's most recognisable landmarks Credit: PA Pictures

Also up-and-running, explained Professor Garrett, is the 42-foot dish that sits atop Jodrell’s main building and is busy monitoring the activities of pulsars.

“Getting Jodrell back into operation after such a long shutdown is a really positive signal to our team at Jodrell, the rest of the University and the international science community as a whole,” said Professor Garrett.

“In particular it’s a very reassuring message to our students and prospective students who look to Manchester because it’s all about discovering new knowledge. That is beginning to happen again.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge to getting Jodrell fully operational has been restarting the ‘supercomputer at the heart’ of Jodrell’s scientific programmes because its amazing number-crunching capabilities make sense and correlate the vast amounts of data that the Manchester telescopes gather from the cosmos.

“This has now been turned on – we had all our fingers and toes crossed and so far it looks good. Of course, it still needs to be exercised with some real data but that will come,” added Professor Garrett.