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Moon Landing 50th: Celebrations and Events at Jodrell Bank

Jodrell Bank played a unique role in the historic 1969 Moon landings and 2019 marks 50 years since that momentous occasion when humanity first stepped foot on another celestial body.

In July 1969, the Jodrell Bank Observatory team, led by Director Sir Bernard Lovell, monitored signals from the Apollo 11 Eagle lander carrying legendary astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Signals intercepted at Jodrell Bank caught the moment when the Eagle lander touched down on the surface, capturing one of the greatest achievements of mankind.

This year, we’ll be hosting a packed programme of public events and celebrations to mark the momentous anniversary.

Moon Landing 50th will run throughout 2019 and is set to include a wealth of events and activities to engage all our visitors and communities.

Families can plan ahead and look forward to a range of fun-filled and fact-packed ways to get involved. Highlights include two Stargazing Nights on 15 February and 29 March and two new moon-themed Live Science Shows running through May Half Term and the Summer holidays.

Families visiting us in the summer will also be able to get their hands on real pieces of the Moon brought back by Apollo astronauts in Moon rock and meteorites. Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to presenting our first Rocket Lab, a series of hands-on activities all about rocket science! There’s fun for the under 7s too with Tiny Astronauts, a drop-in session for budding young astronauts keen to explore our Solar System!

A special Girls Night Out event will take place in October, welcoming Dr. Katie Joy from the University of Manchester who’ll talk about her work as a planetary scientist with a special focus on the Moon and meteorites.

And finally, groups are also encouraged to take part in the celebrations by booking a special visit to Jodrell Bank to enjoy the brand new groups talk, One Giant Leap. Using archive audio-visual footage, the talk tells the inspirational story of Jodrell Bank and its role in the race to the Moon.

Moon Landing 50th – What’s on at a glance:

Stargazing Night: Moon Watch
Friday 15 February, 7pm – 10pm
£9.50/£8.50 (10% discount for Annual Pass holders)

One Giant Leap talk for groups
Available for group bookings from 1 March 2019
Talk and Tour: £10.50pp
Talk, Tour and Picnic: £18.50pp

Live Science Show: Lift Off!
Tuesday 28 – Friday 31 May, 11am, 12pm, 2:30pm
Free with general admission

Tiny Astronauts (Under 7s sessions)
Tuesday 18 – Friday 21 May, 11am and 1pm
and Monday 29 July – Friday 30 August (weekdays only)
Free with general admission

Rocket Lab! (Drop-in activities)
Saturday 15 – Monday 27 May, 11am – 4pm
and Monday 29 July – Friday 30 August, 11am – 4pm
Free with general admission

Live Science Show: Mission to the Moon
Monday 29 July – Friday 30 August (weekdays only), 11am, 12pm and 2:30pm
Free with general admission

Moon rock and meteorites (Drop-in)
Monday 29 July – Friday 30 August, 11am – 4pm
Free with general admission

Girls Night Out Moon Special
Friday 25 October, 7pm – 10pm
£14.50/£12.50 (10% off for Annual Pass holders)

More events still to be announced! Click here for full what’s on listings.

British Science Week: Meet Barnes the ExoMars Rover

British Science Week is a national celebration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths which takes place from 8th – 17th March.

Here’s four great ways to get involved at Jodrell Bank:

1. Visit us on either Saturday 9th or Sunday 10th March to meet Barnes, Aberystwyth University’s full-scale model of the ExoMars Rover!

A European space rover is due to land on Mars in 2020…but what will it look like? How tall is it? What will the instruments do? How will it search for life? Find out the answers to all these questions when you see and explore Barnes on display at Jodrell Bank.

Find out more…

2. Stick around on 9th or 10th March and enjoy a live Science Show as we journey through the history and achievements of scientists at Jodrell Bank. From the Apollo Moon missions to exploding stars and black holes, our fun and interactive, family-friendly science shows are perfect for all the family.

Find out more…

3. Join in with one of our popular Telescope Walking Tours. They’re running at 3:15pm every day during British Science Week with an extra tour at 11:45am from Saturday 9th – Friday 15th March. Follow one our friendly Explainers on gentle stroll around the base of the mighty Lovell Telescope as they tell you all about the incredible science of Jodrell Bank.

Find out more…

4. Get set to blast off on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th December as we present another of our ever-popular under 7s sessions. Join us on a fun-filled rocket trip into space, exploring the Solar System and playing lots of games along the way.

Find out more…

See you soon!

2019 bluedot headliners announced

We’re thrilled to reveal the first wave of science, music and culture acts at this summer’s highly anticipated bluedot.

Taking place 18-21 July 2019 and marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, this summer will see our fourth instalment of the multi award-winning festival and an even bigger celebration than ever before.

Alongside Kraftwerk, one of the most influential electronic groups of all time, New Order will celebrate a homecoming festival performance on the Saturday night, with Hot Chip heading up the bill on Friday.

On Thursday night the Lovell Stage will host an orchestral extravaganza as the internationally renowned Halle Orchestra presents Lift Off, a performance of specially selected sci-fi themes and music related to the Moon accompanied by unique big screen visuals.

Elsewhere on the line-up is electronic pioneer Jon Hopkins, Mercury nominated poet, playwright and rapper Kate Tempest, alt-electro storyteller John Grant, Welsh psych wizard Gruff Rhys, Grammy nominated producer Jennifer Lee aka TOKIMONSTA and art-rocker Anna Calvi.

Also announced is the first all-female West African supergroup – Les Amazones d’Afrique and a DJ set from award-winning actor and activist Maxine Peake.

We’re also delighted to announce the first names from our science and culture programme. Key speakers include leading science, wildlife and natural history broadcaster Liz Bonnin, Professor of Disability Research Tom Shakespeare and women’s rights activist Dr Helen Pankhurst, as well as bluedot favourites physicist Professor Jim Al-Khalili, spaceflight expert Dr Libby Jackson, TV presenter Dallas Campbell and the return of The Clangers celebrating their 50th anniversary.

The full programme plus details of the highly anticipated Moon landing celebration will be announced in the coming weeks. Weekend tickets will be on public sale from 10am Thursday 24th January.

For more information visit:

A giant interstellar bubble is being blown in the Andromeda Galaxy!

An international team of astrophysicists, including researchers from Jodrell Bank, have discovered that a remarkable star has been continuously erupting, on an annual basis, for millions of years.

The star is part of a nova system two and a half million light years away in the Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest large galactic neighbour, and is called M31N 2008-12a (or simply 12a for short).

The two stars that make up the nova system are a red giant star, which is larger and more evolved than our Sun, orbiting a white dwarf. A white dwarf is a dead star, about the size of the Earth but with a mass almost one and a half times that of the Sun. It is the fact that these two stars orbit in such close proximity that is the cause of the stellar explosions.

Based on new observations, and by using state-of-the-art hydrodynamic simulations carried out at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and Jodrell Bank, the astrophysicists also revealed that these constant eruptions are blowing an enormous, interstellar bubble around the nova!

The eruptions are essentially Earth-sized hydrogen bombs, ejecting material equivalent approximately to the mass of the Moon in all directions at thousands of kilometres per second.

A composite image of Liverpool Telescope data (bottom left) and Hubble Space Telescope data (top right) of the nova super-remnant. M31N 2008-12a is in the middle of the image.

Professor Tim O’Brien, one of the authors of the study and Professor of Astrophysics and Associate Director of Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, explains “The two stars orbit so closely that matter from the red giant falls onto the surface of the white dwarf. Over the course of a year, this accreted material builds up to the point where it exceeds a critical pressure and explodes. Some material is ejected but the white dwarf is not destroyed and the cycle of accretion and explosion continues.

“These new observations suggest the explosions have been continuing for millions of years, ejecting material and blowing a gigantic glowing bubble that we see surrounding the central stellar system.

“But this nova remnant is one hundred times larger than any seen before. In order to convince ourselves that this was even possible, we conducted computer simulations of up to a hundred thousand eruptions. These demonstrate that exactly this sort of gigantic bubble can be constructed gradually, outburst by outburst, over millions of years.”

Despite its uniqueness and staggering scale, the discovery of this super-remnant may have further significance.

Dr Matt Darnley, lead author on the study and Reader in Time Domain Astrophysics at LJMU’s Astrophysics Research Institute, added: “Studying 12a and its super-remnant could help us to understand how some white dwarfs grow to their critical upper mass and how they actually explode once they gets there as a ‘Type Ia Supernova’. Type Ia supernovae are critical tools used to work out how the universe expands and grows.”

Dr Rebekah Hounsell, second author on the study and a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, was at the Space Telescope Science Institute when she took part in the research, also explains: “Type Ia supernovae are some of the largest explosions in the Universe and our most mature cosmological probes. The recurrent novae M31N 2008-12a is the most likely SN Ia progenitor to date, and provides us with the unique opportunity to study such a system before its final demise.”

Professor Tim O’Brien continues: “Every so often a new star appears in the night sky. Although these have been seen for thousands of years, it is only recently that astronomers have realised they are not always new stars being born, but explosions on very old stars.

“A small number of these novae have been seen to explode more than once. But this phenomenon is rare and typically the explosions repeat only every decade or more. What makes this discovery so unique is the fact the eruptions recur so often.”

Top Awards for University of Manchester Astronomers

Two University of Manchester astronomers have been awarded some of the Royal Astronomical Society’s (RAS) most prestigious prizes for their research and work in the field.

Professor Anna Scaife, Professor of Radio Astronomy at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, will be the 2019 recipient of the Jackson-Gwilt Medal, one of the highest honours the RAS can bestow on a researcher, whilst Dr Sarah Crowther has won the Annie Maunder Medal for her outreach work.

The Jackson-Gwilt medal has been awarded by the RAS since 1897 and won by other astronomical luminaries, such as the late Sir Patrick Moore. What makes Prof Scaife’s award even more extraordinary is she is just the second female winner of the coveted prize in its 122 year history.

Despite her achievement, Prof Scaife, is also keen to recognise her international collaborators for their contributions to her work. She said: “It’s an honour to be recognised by the RAS with this award. Modern radio astronomy is a collaborative international effort and I would like to thank all of the colleagues I have worked with in these projects, and to dedicate this medal to them.”

Prof Scaife will receive the prize for being ‘a world leader’ in radio astronomy and leading on numerous international projects for the new generation of large radio telescopes, such as the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) and Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Dr Crowther, a Research Fellow in the University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, will receive her award for ‘her phenomenal commitment, leadership and work in promoting Earth and Solar System Planetary Science over many years’. This work includes a huge range of imaginative engagement activities and setting up a blog which takes meteorite and planetary science knowledge to a global audience.

But whilst also “delighted” with her prize, Dr Crowther says it is her responsibility as an academic to inspire the next generation of stargazers and scientists, she said: “I feel we have a duty to share our research and make it interesting, accessible and exciting to everyone, and to enable people of all ages and backgrounds to engage with the latest research. If we can inspire even just a few children and young people to go on and become the next generation of scientists and engineers then we’ve achieved something worthwhile. I’m delighted to receive this award for the work I, and my fellow colleagues, do trying to share our work with a wider audience.”

The awards will be presented at the National Astronomy Meeting in Lancaster in July.

Top: Professor Anna Scaife inspires young women and girls with her fascinating work in a talk at one our Girls Night Out events.
Bottom: Dr. Sarah Crowther engages children and young families at our annual festival of discovery, bluedot.

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. 

Slowest ever pulsar star discovered by Jodrell Bank PhD student

An approximately 14 million year old pulsar star that is the “slowest-spinning” of its kind ever identified has been discovered by a Jodrell Bank PhD student.

Chia Min Tan, a PhD Student based at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, was part of an international team including fellow astronomers at Manchester, ASTRON and the University of Amsterdam.

The team carried out the observations using the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR), whose core is located in the Netherlands. Their findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars that produce electromagnetic radiation in beams that emanate from their magnetic poles. These ‘cosmic lighthouses’ are born when a massive star explodes in a supernova. After such an explosion a super-dense spinning ‘neutron star’ is left behind with a diameter of only about 20 kilometres.

The fastest-spinning pulsar known to science, at present, rotates once every 1.4 milliseconds, that’s 716 times per second or 42,960 a minute. Until now, the slowest-spinning pulsar known had a rotation period of 8.5 seconds. This new pulsar, which is located in the constellation Cassiopeia some 5,200 light-years away from Earth, spins at the much slower rate of once every 23.5 seconds.

What makes the discovery even more unlikely is that the radio emission lasts just 200 milliseconds of the 23.5 second rotation period.

Chia Min Tan explains: “The radio emission that comes from a pulsar acts like a cosmic lighthouse and you can only see the signal if the radio beam is facing towards you. In this case the beam is so narrow that it might easily have missed the Earth.

“Slow-spinning pulsars are even harder to detect. It is incredible to think that this pulsar spins more than 15000 times more slowly than the fastest spinning pulsar known. We hope that there are more to be found with LOFAR”.

The astronomers discovered this new pulsar during the LOFAR Tied-Array All-Sky Survey. This survey is searching for pulsars in the Northern sky. Each survey snapshot of the sky lasts for one hour. This is much longer than used in previous surveys, and gave the sensitivity needed to discover this surprising pulsar.

Not only did astronomers ‘hear’ the regular ticks of the pulsar signal, they could also ‘see’ the pulsar in LOFAR’s imaging survey. Co-author Professor Ben Stappers, also from Jodrell Bank, said: “This pulsar was bright enough and spins slowly enough that we could see it blinking in the images.”

The pulsar is approximately 14 million years old, but still has a strong magnetic field. Co-author Jason Hessels, ASTRON and University of Amsterdam, added: “This discovery was completely unexpected. We’re still a bit shocked that a pulsar can spin so slowly and still create radio pulses. Apparently radio pulsars can be slower than we expected. This challenges and informs our theories for how pulsars shine.”

The next step for the astronomers is continuing their LOFAR survey to find new pulsars. They are also planning to observe their new find with the XMM-Newton space telescope. Chia Min Tan added: “This telescope is designed to detect X-rays. If the super-slow pulsar is detected as a source of X-rays, then this will give important insights into its history and origin.”

Image: Artist’s conception of the newly discovered 23.5-second pulsar. Credit: Danielle Futselaar and ASTRON

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.

That was bluedot 2018!

From 19-22 July, we welcomed more than 18,000 festival-goers to Jodrell Bank for a packed celebration of science, music, art and discovery.

The 4 day festival saw an impressive 147 music acts (including a 60-piece orchestra), 45 research teams, 43 science talks, 22 panel discussions, 11 art installations, 8 festival stages, 3 science marketplaces and 0 single-use plastics!

We want to take the opportunity to thank all our many partners, speakers, artists and exhibitors who made this year’s festival so special, and of course, to all those that attended and shared their weekends with us here at Jodrell Bank. We can’t wait to welcome you all back again next summer…

2019 Festival -Book Now!

Bluedot will return on 18-21 July 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landings and tickets are now on sale.
Click here to book

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See you next year!

Thai princess visits Jodrell Bank

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand visited Jodrell Bank last week to celebrate the close astronomy links between her country and The University of Manchester.

On her visit, Her Royal Highness, a keen astronomer, met scientists from the University’s School of Physics & Astronomy who are working closely with Thai researchers on joint projects, and heard about historic links between the University and the Thai Royal Family which stretch back to an 1875 expedition to observe a solar eclipse.

She toured the site, including the Observatory, the iconic Lovell Telescope, and the Discovery Centre. She also visited the headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array, an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope over two sites in South Africa and Australia.

One of the current collaborations Her Royal Highness heard about was with The National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT). The Capacity Building for Thai Radio Astronomy NARIT-STFC Newton Fund Collaboration is led by the University of Hertfordshire with extensive involvement from Jodrell Bank and funding from the Science and Technologies Funding Council. It aims to provide training and technical support for the Thai National Radio Observatory Astronomy.

This latest link is not the first between astronomers in Manchester and Thailand. In 1875 King Rama V invited foreign scientists to observe a total solar eclipse in Thailand. Among them was Sir Arthur Schuster, an alumnus of Owens college – one of the University’s predecessor institutions – who later became a professor of mathematical physics at the University.

This event was marked during the visit as Her Royal Highness presented plaques of appreciation to several current and former scientists for their support of astronomy in Thailand.

Professor Luke Georghiou, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, escorted her Royal Highness on the visit. He said: “The University of Manchester has a strong relationship with Thailand and this is exemplified by the links between Jodrell Bank and astronomers working at NARIT.

“It was an honour to welcome Her Royal Highness to Jodrell Bank and to introduce her to many of the researchers who are working together with Thai colleagues on this area of great mutual interest.”

Her Royal Highness was joined for a group photo in front of the iconic Lovell Telescope by representatives of the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre and Square Kilometre Array Organisation. Photography by Howard Barlow.