It took the better part of the past two summers, but the University of Manchester's huge Lovell Telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in the United Kingdom is now back online and sporting a pearly-white new surface among several other improvements. According to Andrew Lyne, director of Jodrell Bank, the renovations "will greatly extend the range of observations that the telescope can carry out and will keep it at the leading edge of astronomical research for many years to come."
The 76-meter (250-foot) radio telescope was built in 1957 and has long been an icon of British science. It has been upgraded several times since then and has now completed three phases of its most recent four-step upgrade program. First, the rusting sheet-metal surface panels were replaced with galvanized steel plates (used instead of aluminum to keep the bowl structure in balance). Second, new motors to drive the telescope's azimuth and elevation were installed and put under the control of a high-precision system that will greatly improve tracking. Finally, the foundation was refurbished to keep water from getting in, and the outer track on which the telescope rotates was relaid.
The final step, in which the 340 surface panels will be adjusted to optimize the parabolic shape to an accuracy four times greater than before, is scheduled for next spring. After the upgrade, the telescope will be able to observe down to a wavelength of 3 centimeters, more than 20 times shorter than it was originally designed for.
The Lovell Telescope is a major component of the U.K.'s MERLIN (Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network), a high-resolution radio-imaging network that comprises seven telescopes arrayed across England. The upgraded Lovell Telescope will more than double the sensitivity of MERLIN, which can produce radio images at resolutions far exceeding those of the Hubble Space Telescope's visible-light images.