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Audio archive of Soviet Zond 6 lunar mission released by Jodrell Bank

As part of our Heritage Lottery funded project, First Light at Jodrell Bank, Professor Tim O’Brien, Associate Director for the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, has been exploring the Observatory’s archives.

Now, on its 50th anniversary, we’ve been able to release the audio recordings from a Soviet space mission from November 1968, just as the race to the Moon was approaching the finish line.

“Amongst the many interesting documents in the archive, there are a number of audio recordings of the spacecraft signals picked up by the Lovell Telescope during this crucial period of human history.”

On 10th November 1968, the Soviet Union launched Zond 6. Its mission was to loop around the Moon and return to Earth safely. Although there was nobody on board, it was planned as a precursor to a crewed flight around the Moon, racing to beat the American’s Apollo 8 whose launch was scheduled for December 1968.

Throughout the space race, the astronomers at Jodrell Bank, led by Sir Bernard Lovell, had tracked both American and Russian spacecraft. Zond 6 was no different.

In the audio file, which you can listen to below, Sir Bernard narrates the flight of Zond 6, from 13th Nov to 17th November 1968, when the spacecraft returned to Earth.

The recording opens with the beeps of the telemetry being received from the spacecraft followed by Lovell’s unmistakeable voice:

“This is Zond 6. This is the Russian probe Zond 6. November the fourteenth 1968. The time is 01:52 UT. The probe is about one hour’s travel away from the Moon.”

The file also includes a human voice speaking in Russian. A similar voice had been picked up by Jodrell Bank during the flight of Zond 5 in September 1968. It is thought to have been either a recorded message on the spacecraft, broadcast in order to test communications, or personnel on the ground relaying their voices via the spacecraft in training for a future crewed mission.

Tim explained “I’d read about these voices but I’d never actually heard a recording or seen a transcript. I don’t speak Russian, so I asked Kostya, one of my colleagues here in the School of Physics & Astronomy, if he would translate.”

Professor Sir Kostya Novoselov, who shared the Nobel Prize in 2010 with Professor Sir Andre Geim for their work on graphene, was very happy to help. He provided this detailed transcript of what is thought to be simulated instrument readings: “It was definitely a great fun and honour simultaneously to transcribe and translate these records. Touching this great piece of history is thrilling. You almost travel back in time to the era of great space exploration.”

Zond 6 flew around the Moon on 14 November 1968, reaching a closest approach of 2420 km. Unfortunately, during the return to Earth, the spacecraft depressurised, killing the biological specimens on board (thought to be similar to those carried on Zond 5, a payload including tortoises, worms and seeds). Then the parachutes failed and it crash landed, although photographs of the Moon were retrieved from the wreckage.

This and other failures meant the Soviet Union were forced to delay a crewed flight. When Apollo 8 became the first piloted circumlunar mission in December of 1968, that signalled the end of their ambition to send cosmonauts to the Moon.

Tim will be speaking about Jodrell Bank’s role in the race to the moon in his upcoming Lovell Lecture, find out more here. 

FREE Admission from 3 – 9 December with a National Lottery Ticket!

Thank You Week is back! From 3 – 9 December, we will be taking part in the Heritage Lottery Fund’s #ThanksToYou campaign by offering FREE ADMISSION* to all our visitors who play the National Lottery.

We were recently awarded £12.2m from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop our ambitious new First Light Project and so this is our chance to say thank you to the National Lottery players that helped to raise those funds.

To claim your free admission ticket

Visit Jodrell Bank any day between Monday 3rd – Sunday 9th December and bring along proof of having played the National Lottery -this can include a recent lottery ticket or a scratch card and it can be either a digital or paper copy, the date of purchase is not relevant. You can bring as many people as you like with one lottery ticket.

You can turn up on the day but we advise booking your free tickets in advance (remember, you still need to bring your lottery ticket with you). To book, simply click here and choose your visiting date. *Please note that car parking charges still apply.

Book your FREE admission tickets here.
Click here for terms and conditions.

Events and Activities

To continue the celebrations, we’ll also be running some of our most popular activities during the week including:

Telescope Walking Tours
Monday 3rd – Friday 7th December, 2pm
Saturday 8th – Sunday 9th December, 1pm
Included in your free admission

Live Science Shows
Saturday 8th – Sunday 9th December, 11am, 12noon, 2:30pm
Included in your free admission

We also have a number of paid ticketed events that week, including:

Introduction to Astrophotography
Wednesday 5th December, 7.30pm
£32.50/£29.50 (10% discount for Annual Pass holders)

Lovell Lecture: Professor Tim O’Brien
Thursday 6th December, 7.30pm
£10/£8 (10% discount for Annual Pass holders)

Stargazing Night (SOLD OUT)
Friday 7th December, 7pm
£9.50/£8.50 (10% discount for Annual Pass holders)

See you soon!

HLF logo


Maintenance work on the Lovell Telescope

Visitors to the Discovery Centre will notice that the Lovell Telescope is currently undergoing some maintenance work. A number of significant tasks are being undertaken: painting, steelwork repairs at the top of one of the supporting towers, and replacement of the original 1957 surface.

The impressive 76-metre diameter Radio Telescope, named after Sir Bernard Lovell, was a pioneering development in the science of radio astronomy when it was first built over 60 years ago. At the time of its completion in 1957, it was the world’s largest radio telescope and its still the third largest of its kind in the world today. It continues to operate as a cutting-edge research instrument but is also Grade I listed by Historic England as a building of exceptional scientific, cultural and historic interest.

In order to remain in good operational order, the telescope must be continuously maintained. Large jobs, like those being undertaken at the moment, are conducted during the summer, when days are longer and the weather is usually better.

In the first major upgrade to the telescope in 1970-71, a new reflecting surface with a shallower curve was added above the original, together with a large new wheel girder system to help support the weight of the bowl. In the early 2000’s, this additional surface was itself replaced with a new galvanised steel surface with a more accurate paraboloidal shape significantly improving the efficiency of the telescope (pictured below).

Throughout these upgrades, the original 1957 surface was left in place as an integral part of the structure providing significant protection from wind and rain to the reverse of the reflecting bowl. It is this surface which is visible from below when the telescope is parked pointing towards the zenith, as it is at the moment.

Despite continual care, the condition of this surface has now deteriorated to the extent that it needs replacement. The work required is significant and is planned to take place over two consecutive summers. It is being conducted by Taziker Industrial who have extensive experience of refurbishment of large steelwork structures, including the Iron Bridge in Shropshire, the Tay Rail Bridge and the Royal Albert Bridge over the River Tamar.

Sections of the original surface will be carefully kept for use in our Heritage Lottery Fund project, First Light, celebrating the history of the Observatory. At the heart of First Light will be a new exhibition featuring these carefully preserved sections of the surface.

Continual maintenance and major tasks like those currently underway are a key part of ensuring the telescope will continue to make fundamental contributions to radio astronomy research over the coming decades.

Funding confirmed for First Light at Jodrell Bank

We are absolutely thrilled to be able to announce today our £20.5m transformative First Light at Jodrell Bank project is set to receive a total of £16.1m from The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). £12.1m of the total is thanks to National Lottery players, with a further £4m coming from the Government.

The project will create a spectacular new building that will promote and celebrate Jodrell Bank’s world-leading place in the history of astronomy, and a pioneering chapter in British scientific and cultural history.

Jodrell Bank Observatory, which is part of The University of Manchester, was founded in 1945. It is the earliest radio astronomy observatory in the world still in existence and was a pioneer of the new science of radio astronomy, which revolutionised our understanding of the universe. In recognition of the international significance of its science heritage, Jodrell Bank was nominated by DCMS for UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription in January 2018.

This game-changing support of National Lottery players will preserve and protect the heritage of the site for future generations and result in a must-see national heritage destination to match the site’s national and international importance. The new facilities will house a stunning new exhibition and engagement space, incorporating the original fabric of the 1957 dish of the telescope, an auditorium devoted to displaying immersive digital presentations, an education hub, and a new café.

At its core the First Light Project is all about connecting the widest range of people with the heritage of science and innovation, and will provide opportunities for people to become more involved in Jodrell Bank through education, group activities, volunteering and engagement.

The project will provide a place of inspiration for young people and their families, showcasing not only the emergence of the new science of radio astronomy, but also the stories of resilience, determination, cooperation and the entrepreneurial spirit that brought it into being.

The project, which will be delivered over the next three years, will create 19 new roles, increase visitor numbers and establish a volunteer programme.

Commenting on the award, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “It’s great to be here at this iconic home of British innovation to personally congratulate the team on this funding award, which will enable Jodrell Bank to continue to inspire scientists in Britain for generations to come.

“We are committed to continuing the proud heritage that Jodrell Bank represents, by making the UK the world’s most innovative economy through our Modern Industrial Strategy. As we stand on the threshold of a technological revolution, we will use science to transform our quality of life.”

Professor Teresa Anderson, Director of Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, said: ‘’We are thrilled that we have received this generous support thanks to National Lottery players and the DCMS. This funding will transform visitor engagement with the heritage of Jodrell Bank. It will enable us to properly relay, reveal, interpret and explain our story, so that a wider range of people, locally, nationally and worldwide, can understand and appreciate the unique turning point that occurred with the emergence of radio astronomy.

“This major investment acknowledges Jodrell Bank’s unique significance and will ensure that the heritage of the site is protected and conserved according to the standards required of a World Heritage Site, ensuring its care and maintenance for future generations.’’

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester added: ‘‘I am delighted by the announcement of this major funding.  It will enable us to share Jodrell Bank’s fantastic stories and amazing feats of UK science and engineering with many thousands of visitors.

“I am particularly pleased that this will provide opportunities for young people to pursue their own paths of interest and to develop the skills needed to become the digital technologists, scientists and artists of the future.”

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “The First Light project has been designed to nurture a new generation of scientists and astronomers and is only possible thanks to National Lottery funding.  Jodrell Bank will be a centre for learning, wonder and fun – a place where people of all ages can visit, be inspired and, quite literally, reach for the stars.”

Heritage Minister Michael Ellis said: “Jodrell Bank is a globally important site that has helped to transform our understanding of the Universe. This significant investment from government and National Lottery players will create a world class visitor attraction and help inspire future generations in science and astronomy.” 


UK puts forward Jodrell Bank Observatory as 2019 World Heritage nomination

Jodrell Bank Observatory has been chosen as the UK’s nomination for World Heritage site status in 2019, Heritage Minister Michael Ellis announced today.

The Observatory, part of the University of Manchester, is home to the Grade I Listed Lovell Telescope and is a site of global importance in the history of radio astronomy. Founded in 1945, it is the earliest radio astronomy observatory in the world still in existence and pioneered the exploration of the universe using radio waves.

The UK currently has 31 World Heritage Sites, with The Lake District having been inscribed in 2017. In order to be inscribed as a World Heritage Site, nominations must show that they possess Outstanding Universal Value, which transcends borders.

The nomination will now be formally assessed by the International Council of Sites and Monuments before the World Heritage Committee decides whether it will join the likes of The Great Barrier Reef, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China as a designated World Heritage Site.

Jodrell Bank is the only site in the world that includes evidence of every stage of the post-1945 development of radio astronomy. As well as the Lovell Telescope, it also includes the Grade I Listed Mark II Telescope and the Park Royal building, which was the control room for the Transit Telescope, whose detection of radio waves from the Andromeda Galaxy confirmed that the Universe extends beyond our own galaxy.

Michael Ellis, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, said: “Jodrell Bank played a central role in transforming our understanding of the Universe and is therefore a site of global importance. The nomination process for UNESCO is rightly thorough but I believe Jodrell Bank deserves to be recognised. The diverse heritage of the UK is world renowned and the observatory would be a worthy addition to our list of World Heritage Sites.”

Professor Teresa Anderson, Director of Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre said: “The Jodrell Bank Observatory, and Lovell Telescope in particular, have become icons of science and engineering around the world and we’re delighted to reach this milestone. We have been preparing the case for nomination for inclusion of Jodrell Bank on the World Heritage list for several years now and we look forward to showcasing its rich scientific heritage on the international stage.”

Professor Tim O’Brien, Associate Director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, said: “Jodrell Bank really is an iconic site and institution, not just here in the northwest of England but to people around the world. It is the one remaining site, worldwide which has been a working observatory from the very first days of radio astronomy to the present day. It’s important that we protect its rich heritage as we celebrate its current and future work.”

Last year the Government announced it will award £4 million to Jodrell Bank to help fund its new interpretation centre project, promoting the historically significant scientific work.

£4m for First Light at Jodrell Bank

We were delighted to hear on Wednesday that the Discovery Centre was awarded £4m in the Autumn Statement to go towards our First Light Project. This fantastic news provides the final piece in the jigsaw that will enable us to move ahead with our exciting and ambitious plans for the development at Jodrell Bank.

Subject to the approval of a business plan, the £4m completes the fundraising for the project and sits alongside our offer of £12M from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and further generous support from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, the Denise Coates Foundation, the University of Manchester Alumni and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

The project, which supports Jodrell Bank’s bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site Status, will involve the creation of a stunning new gallery where people will be able to discover the fascinating history and inspiring stories of Jodrell Bank Observatory.

We are very grateful to all our funders for backing this fantastic new project, including to David Rutley MP who has been tireless in his support of our plans. We’re looking forward to creating something very special to celebrate the history of this unique place. 

Find out more..



Free Admission for National Lottery Players! 11th – 17th December

From 11 – 17 December, we will be taking part in the Heritage Lottery Fund’s #ThanksToYou promotion by offering FREE ADMISSION to all visitors who play the National Lottery.

We’ll be joining over 350 other venues in this nation-wide campaign to demonstrate the impact of lottery funding. -Without National Lottery players, the £7.7billion of funding awarded to more than 42,000 heritage projects since 1994, would not be possible.

Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre has recently been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to support its First Light Project. This project will create a stunning new building in which visitors will be able to engage with the history of the site and the stories of the scientists and engineers who have worked here.

So, if you’ve ever played the National Lottery, then you’ve helped support exciting new projects like First Light, and this is our chance to say Thank You!

Book your free admission Tickets

From Monday 11 – Sunday 17 December, we will be offering free admission to anyone who plays the national lottery. Simply book your tickets online and bring any lottery ticket or scratch card with you when you visit. Proof can be either digital or paper and date of purchase is not relevant. You can bring as many people as you like with one lottery ticket, just be sure to add them to your booking.

To book your free tickets in advance (advised as we may be very busy on the day), simply click here

Click here for terms and conditions

Events and Activities

To continue the celebrations, we’ll also be running some of our most popular events and activities during the week including:


Monday 11 December Garden Tour, 11:30am Telescope Walking Tour, 2:30pm
Tuesday 12 December Garden Tour, 11:30am Telescope Walking Tour, 2:30pm
Wednesday 13 December Garden Tour, 11:30am Telescope Walking Tour, 2:30pm
Thursday 14 December Garden Tour, 11:30am Telescope Walking Tour, 2:30pm
Friday 15 December Garden Tour, 11:30am Telescope Walking Tour, 2:30pm


Saturday 16 December Telescope Walking Tours, 11am and 2pm Stars Science Shows, 12pm and 3pm Craft Activities, 11am – 4pm
Sunday 17 December Telescope Walking Tours, 11am and 2pm Stars Science Shows, 12pm and 3pm Craft Activities, 11am – 4pm

All our extra events and activities are also included in your free admission!

We do hope you can come along, don’t forget to book your free tickets online here.

The UK’s next candidate for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

As we tell everyone the news that Jodrell Bank is going forward for nomination as a World Heritage Site early in 2018, this is a good time to take a step back from it all and reflect on the journey that has brought us to this point.

To be honest, back in 2010, when the first proposal went in for consideration for the UK shortlist (known as the ‘Tentative List’), we had only a vague grasp of what was involved in becoming a World Heritage Site.  Since then it’s been an eye-opener, to say the least!

The process we have gone through in the intervening years has taught us a lot – both about the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and also about Jodrell Bank site itself.

We have uncovered layers of history, some fantastic stories, and the role that Jodrell Bank has played in the emergence and continuing development of the field of radio astronomy.

Although it’s something we have known for decades, it has brought home to us the long-standing contribution that Jodrell Bank has made, and is making, in its field. It’s a privilege to work at the earliest radio astronomy observatory in the world that is still in existence. It’s also inspiring to consider that it is now the one remaining site, worldwide, that includes evidence of every stage of the post-1945 emergence of this new science.

As we have researched, consulted, written (and re-written) documents, pored over maps and plans, a truly remarkable story as emerged. It’s human to its core – a mix of vision and challenges; determination and chance; politics and personal relationships – and, perhaps even more remarkably, it’s a story that is laid down upon a site and its landscape, embodied in its buildings and telescopes, and the traces of former structures that remain.

Of course, to people in the UK, and in the North of England in particular, Jodrell Bank is synonymous with the Lovell Telescope. An icon of human creativity, of science, engineering and pure ‘can do’ spirit, it seems an astonishing and audacious structure even to this day.

We think that it’s probably the only Grade 1 listed structure that’s on wheels. And, until earlier this year, it was the only Grade 1 listed structure that detects radio waves that have travelled for millions or even billions of years at the speed of light from distant objects far off across the Universe.

Now, of course, the Mark II Telescope is also Grade I listed, so the site is bracketed by two world leading scientific instruments that are also protected at the highest level possible within the UK because of their role in the emergence of radio astronomy.

We are looking forward, now, to January 2018, when the full nomination dossier will be submitted to UNESCO for consideration. And hopefully, around 18 months afterwards, the site will be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

We’re already looking forward to it.

Professor Teresa Anderson

A Summer of Science: Celebrating 60 years of the Lovell Telescope

Bring all the family to Jodrell Bank this summer and join us as we celebrate 60 years of the giant Lovell Telescope.

Standing tall on the Cheshire landscape since 1957, the impressive near 90m high radio telescope has become a familiar sight for many of us. But it’s not just a local landmark -The Lovell Telescope has international significance and is known across the globe for the part it has played in many ground-breaking and world-leading scientific discoveries.

This summer, from 31st July – 3rd September, we’ll be celebrating the telescope’s rich and diverse heritage along with its incredible scientific achievements, in a series of family friendly shows, talks, tours, and activities. Perfect for the school holidays!

All events and activities are FREE with general admission and you can book  your admission tickets online here.

You can view a full list of our events here. We’ve also created a handy guide for you below so you can see what’s on each day.

Monday 31st July – Sunday 3rd September:

Mondays Telescope Walking Tours
(11:30, 12:30, 14:30 and 15:30)
Jodrell Jubilee Activities
(11:00 – 16:00)
Science Shows
(11:30, 14:30)
Tuesdays Telescope Walking Tours
(11:30, 12:30, 14:30 and 15:30)
Jodrell Jubilee Activities
(11:00 – 16:00)
Science Shows
(11:30, 14:30)
Meet the Expert
Wednesdays Telescope Walking Tours
(11:30, 12:30, 14:30 and 15:30)
Jodrell Jubilee Activities
(11:00 – 16:00)
Science Shows
(11:30, 14:30)
Thursdays Telescope Walking Tours
(11:30, 12:30, 14:30 and 15:30)
Jodrell Jubilee Activities
(11:00 – 16:00)
Science Shows
(11:30, 14:30)
Garden Tours
(10:30, 13:30)
Fridays Telescope Walking Tours
(11:30, 12:30, 14:30 and 15:30)
Jodrell Jubilee Activities
(11:00 – 16:00)
Science Shows
(11:30, 14:30)
Saturdays Telescope Walking Tours
(11:30, 12:30, 14:30 and 15:30)
Jodrell Jubilee Activities
(11:00 – 16:00)
Sundays Telescope Walking Tours
(11:30, 12:30, 14:30 and 15:30)
Jodrell Jubilee Activities
(11:00 – 16:00)

Green Space Garden Volunteer Days

A brand new opportunity to volunteer at Jodrell Bank.

With 35 acres of gardens and arboretum, Jodrell Bank has a strong horticultural tradition and the site was originally part of the University of Manchester’s botany department. The Gardens were planted by Sir Bernard Lovell, the founder of the Observatory, who had a passion for biodiversity, and especially for trees. His work has transformed the former farmland into a beautiful green oasis and a haven for wildlife.

As part of our heritage project First Light at Jodrell Bank, we’ve developed an exciting new volunteering opportunity to follow in Sir Bernard’s footsteps and help us look after the natural heritage of the Jodrell Bank site.

The opportunity, which supports Cheshire East’s Give 5 volunteering scheme, encourages volunteers to offer just 5 hours a month (including travel time) to help maintain the gardens and increase the biodiversity at Jodrell Bank.

We’ll be hosting Garden Volunteer Days from 11am – 3pm on the last Wednesday of every month. Each month we’ll work on a different task related to various aspects of gardening. You’ll gain useful skills in horticulture and biodiversity, such as woodland management, habitat creation or wildlife surveys.

Our first volunteer day is Wednesday 29th March and we’ll be coppicing willow. The day starts at 11am and finished at 3pm and there’ll be time for an hour lunch break (you can bring your own or buy lunch from our Planet Pavilion Café. Tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided.

If you’d like to join us simply e-mail to register your interest.