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Jodrell Bank Lovell telescope

Jodrell Bank added to UNESCO World Heritage List

Image credit: Mark Williamson | Dreamstime.com

Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire has been named as the UK’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, becoming the 32nd site in the UK to be added to the prestigious list, joining other such world landmarks as Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal.

Owned by the University of Manchester, Jodrell Bank is home to the iconic Lovell Telescope, still the world’s third-largest steerable radio telescope. Completed in 1957, the dish was the largest of its kind anywhere in the world until 1973 and was the catalyst for the construction of many other large-scale satellite dishes.

The Lovell Telescope’s first act was to track the Soviet Union’s Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. Today, Jodrell operates the UK’s national e-Merlin radio telescope and hosts the global headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array, a radio telescope project that will build the world’s largest telescope, comprised of a vast network of instruments sited in South Africa and Australia.

The addition of Jodrell Bank to the UNESCO World Heritage List is in recognition of its outstanding scientific heritage, including its pioneering role in the development of radio astronomy and its work in tracking spacecraft in the early space race, as well as assisting with research into quasars, pulsars and gravitational lenses. The site has evidence of every stage of the history of radio astronomy, from its emergence as a new science in the 1940s through to the present day.

Rebecca Pow, heritage minister, said, “I am delighted that Jodrell Bank has become the UK’s 32nd UNESCO World Heritage Site. The research completed here has transformed our understanding of the Universe and it is right that this is recognised. Today’s announcement will make sure that this remarkable site will continue to inspire young scientists and astronomers all over the world.”

Teresa Anderson, director of the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre said, “This is wonderful news and a great day in the history of Jodrell Bank. It honours the pioneering work of Sir Bernard Lovell and the early scientists here, together with the world-leading research that continues to this day.

“Receiving this recognition will help us tell their story and the story of the communities connected to the site both across the UK and worldwide.”

In 2017, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) increased the Observatory’s status in the National Heritage List for England. The Mark II Telescope joined the Lovell Telescope in being listed at Grade I, the highest form of protection, with a further five buildings listed at Grade II. Together, these listings recognised the pivotal role played by the Observatory in the development of the science of radio astronomy, revolutionising our understanding of the universe.

The decision to add Jodrell Bank Observatory to the UNESCO World Heritage List was taken at the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Minister and ambassador of United Kingdom of Great-Britain and Northern Ireland to UNESCO, Matthew Lodge, said: “Congratulations to the Jodrell Bank Observatory for becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO World Heritage Sites celebrate and safeguard our shared past. They are places of distinct cultural and natural significance for the development of human history. I am delighted that Jodrell Bank Observatory is becoming one of them.

“Jodrell Bank is more than just a relic from the post-war flourishing of research technology. It is also a beacon and centre of excellence for world-leading research and education, reminding us that there is far more to the Universe than meets the eye.

“It is part of one of the UK’s leading universities, the University of Manchester, and hub of the UK’s national array of seven radio telescopes. Jodrell Bank’s rich scientific heritage bears testimony to the UK’s leading role in science research worldwide. Becoming the UK’s 32 UNESCO World Heritage Site is a great accolade for the Observatory, Cheshire and all of the UK.”

In 2018, the University of Manchester was awarded £12.1m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and a further £4m from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in order to create a new Discovery Centre at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire. Named ‘First Light at Jodrell Bank’, the project is creating a spectacular new gallery building to promote and celebrate the observatory’s world-leading place in the history of astronomy.

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