Jodrell Bank Observatory has been awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO under the following criteria:
- It is a masterpiece of human creative genius related to its scientific and technical achievements
- It represents an important interchange of human values over a span of time and on a global scale
- It is an outstanding example of a technological ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in human history
- It directly and tangibly associated with events and ideas of outstanding universal significance.
Founded in 1945, Jodrell Bank Observatory was a pioneer of a completely new science: the exploration of the Universe using radio waves instead of visible light.
This transformational development in a quiet corner of Cheshire, completely opened up humanity’s understanding of the Universe. The new science of radio astronomy discovered previously undreamt of things – quasars, pulsars, gravitational lenses and the fading glow of the Big Bang, allowing us to see way beyond our galaxy and back in time almost 14 billion years to the origin of the Universe itself.
The story of the emergence of radio astronomy is written across the landscape of Jodrell Bank and it is the only remaining site in the world that retains traces of the development of this extraordinary science from its earliest days to the present. Its inspirational story includes revolutionary scientific discoveries, amazing feats of engineering, the dawn of the Space Age and the creation of the Grade I listed Lovell Telescope, an icon for science and engineering.
Scientific research first began here in 1945 when surplus army radar equipment was used to study meteor showers. Further experiments followed, leaving behind a physical trail of the development of a whole new science.
The radio astronomers (as they were now known) at Jodrell Bank proceeded to build the world’s largest radio telescopes in succession. The 66m Transit Telescope (above) made the first ever identification of a radio object outside our own galaxy -the great nebula in Andromeda. It was superseded by the Lovell Telescope (1957), the first act of which was to track the carrier rocket of Sputnik 1 by radar, witnessing the dawn of the Space Age.
The site has remained at the forefront of radio astronomy since its inception and today, the Jodrell Bank team are world-leaders in pulsar research. Part of The University of Manchester, the site runs state-of-the-art astronomical research programmes on the e-MERLIN array of national facility radio telescopes. Jodrell Bank also hosts the international headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array, a global project to create the largest radio telescope on planet Earth.
The site also has a rich history of public engagement and a strong tradition of widening participation. Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, which welcomes over 185,000 visitors every year, including some 27,000 school children, is a multi-award winning visitor attraction focused on celebrating and sharing the science and stories of this iconic site.
As well as a year-round programme of exhibitions, family events and evening lectures, the centre works in innovative ways to reach out to and engage with new audiences, including via its annual festival, bluedot which welcomes over 25,000 people to the site over a single weekend every summer to celebrate in the shadow of the mighty Lovell Telescope.