Most people will be familiar with the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire as the place where Stargazing Live is filmed. Jodrell Bank is owned and run by the University of Manchester and it is the home of the Lovell Telescope, the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world. It is open to the public and has a lovely new visitors centre as well as exhibits and gardens to explore, as well as the chance to have a look at the Lovell Telescope up close and personal.
We visited Jodrell Bank one sunny but bitterly cold day in February. It’s not actually that easy to find as the signposting is few and far between, but if you look for the giant telescope and head towards that you’ll eventually find it (or just use sat nav like normal people). There was ample parking in the car park and it cost £7 per adult and £4.95 per child to get in, which we felt was good value for money.
The visitors centre is not huge, it houses the cafe, shop, reception and a display room with information about various parts of the universe as well as a clockwork Orrery, something I’d never seen before but instantly wanted to have one in my house. An Orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system. There was a handle at child height which we turned and watched the planets and the moons on the ceiling move around. It was something quite special and we spent a lot of time looking at it and talking about the planets.
From the visitors centre we went outside, there were gardens to explore, but as it was very cold we decided to head straight for the outdoor science experiments area. There were a number of large scale experiments to try, each with a plaque explaining what to do. We particularly liked the “Whispering Dishes” or parabolic reflectors, two dishes opposite each other, but some distance apart, one person would whisper into the dish and the other could hear it. It was brilliant and very popular.
We were close to the base of the telescope, there is a large fence around it so you can’t actually go and touch it, but you can get very close. The Lovell Telescope is huge and the dish measures 78 metres across, I was in awe of the size of it, even though I remember visiting as a child.
Having spent around an hour outside conducting experiments in the cold, we headed into the Space Pavilion to have a look at some of the indoor exhibits and to discover how the scientists at Jodrell Bank use radio telescopes to learn more about distant objects in space.
There were lots of hands on exhibits to look at and play about with, as well as a little room where you could sit and watch a film about space. The boys loved it in here, the was lots for them to look at and learn about. I felt the Space Pavilion would have benefited from having someone there to help explain and demonstrate some of the exhibits, but I like to have things explained to me.
After a few hours exploring we felt ready for a hot cup of tea and some cake, sadly the Planet Pavilion Cafe was heaving, so we headed to the shop to buy some space souvenirs and experiments we could try at home, then hopped in the car and left.
We’d had an especially lovely afternoon at Jodrell Bank. We’d explored both the observatory and the outer edges of the universe, learned a little bit about science and got some fresh air. It was a great afternoon out and we are planning to return in the summer when it’s a bit warmer.
For more information about Jodrell Bank visit their website.
Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, The University of Manchester, Macclesfield, Cheshire, Sk11 9DL