Jodrell Bank stories

These are random stories that I heard while at Jodrell Bank, which I felt ought to be written down somewhere. They are probably true, although as with all oral stories they have probably been a bit mangled in the telling (think of Chinese whispers). If anyone can provide any references for these stories, I would be very interested in them – please let me know!

Tracking Apollo 11

The 50ft telescope at Jodrell Bank (now replaced by the 42ft) tracked the Apollo 11 spacecraft on its way to the moon, and were able to calculate its landing position. They were also able to observe the deviations in the flight path due to Armstrong taking manual control of the craft. A plot of this is present somewhere in the Jodrell Bank archives.

References: discussions with Ian Morrison, 50th anniversary talk given by Ian Morrison, BBC interview also with Ian Morrison [1].


  • BBC’s Inside Out said that “the telescope” had tracked Apollo 11. At the time, the Lovell Telescope was being used to track a russian spacecraft; it was the 50ft telescope that was used to track Apollo 11.

Spying with the Lovell Telescope

  • In 1982, a SETI receiver was put on the Lovell telescope, that had ~ 1,000 different frequency channels. One of the more down-to-earth uses for this receiver (and probably the reason that it was put on the telescope) was to search for and record particularly tricky emissions from a Russian satellite. (Ref: Ian Morrison, comments at end of a talk on 17 June 2007.)
  • Vaguely around the same time, the telescope was reserved one day a month for use by an American. One of the students noticed that the telescope wasn’t tracking or moving; just pointing to the same place continuously on one of these days – on obtaining the observation coordinates and comparing them with a map, he found out that the telescope was pointing at Russia. (Ref: Alistair Gunn, talk on 17 June 2007).

Cuban Missile Crisis

The Lovell telescope was pointed towards Russia/Estonia/that vague area during the Cuban missile crisis, with the aim of providing a few minutes warning if any ICBMs were launched. This early warning would have apparently saved ~ 1 million people in london, were a missile actually launched. Thankfully, none were. (Discussion after a talk on 17 June 2007).

Visitors’ Center

A visitor’s center was built at Jodrell in the 1960’s, and was demolished in 2003. At the time it was demolished, plans were in place for a new center to be built, but then UMIST and the Victoria University of Manchester merged, and the plans got delayed as a result. Plans to get the new visitor’s center back on track are in progress; it is not yet known when it will get funding, or be constructed, however.


  • In 2007 [2], Patrick Moore said that it “is now being rebuilt”. However, work on this had not yet started in 2007…
  • The above was true before 2014, but since then JBO has a brand-new visitor centre spread across multiple buildings. For more information, see Wikipedia.

Random press (mis-)quotes

  • The Daily Record, 11 June 2007: “The Jodrell Bank space telescope was unveiled in the same year [1957].” [3] Wow; Jodrell has a space telescope, too?
  • Papillon Graphic’s Virtual Encyclopaedia of Greater Manchester: “When, in 194, under the direction of Professor Sir Bernard Lovell, building began of the 218ft diameter parabolic reflecting aerial, it was the largest radio telescope in the world.” [4] Both the Lovell Telescope, and Sir Bernard himself, are doing extremely well, then, if they’re 1,813 years old!

Random odd Jodrell Bank mentions

  • “It’s accepted that silly females man-please by buying Jodrell Bank-sized implants and then wear the most plunging neckline they can find.” Times Online Women section, 16 June 2007.
  • “… My perception of reality was questionable. Was I mad? I went out for a walk in the park. That’s when the incident with the bird noises started. I could see a tree full of pigeons and heard cooing noises come from the branches. Then a dog barked and the pigeons all took off. Yet I was sure the cooing still came from the branches a full half-second after the birds had all flown.
Later, I mentioned it to the park keeper and he went quiet. I asked him why and he pulled me inside his hut and said: ‘Promise me you’ll tell no one, but we transmit the bird noises from tiny speakers sewn into the leaves. We have a computerised network of speakers dotted all over the country controlled from a centralised bunker underneath Jodrell Bank. We follow flocks of birds around and then co-ordinate squawking, cooing and tweets from designated leaf-hailers nearby. The birds are silent; always have been. Everybody who works in park keeping has known that for years. No bird has ever been heard to make a noise. But the public wants bird noises, so we give it to them. The Jodrell Bank bunker is paid for by fines we collect from people dropping litter. Please don’t let on. The media would have a field day.'” The Observer, Comment column by Armando Iannucci, 5 August 2007.

2 thoughts on “Jodrell Bank stories”

  1. Hi Mike,
    I notice that the content here about the Discovery Centre is very out of date – I expect you are on the case – especially as our third building is going up at present!

    1. Hi Teresa. Thanks for the comment! You’re right that the point about the discovery centre is very out of date. I’ve added a note to update it. Thanks. Mike

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