The UK is currently suffering from very strong gales and storms and the North West seems to have been badly affected. With strong wind, large structures and trees tend to suffer serious damage. Radio astronomers with big telescopes also get worried because strong winds could potentially blow them over.

Today, at Jodrell Bank, the winds have been gusting up to 84 mph (135 km/h) which is quite serious and all the telescopes have been 'parked'. That means pointing the bowls straight upwards (they look like a bowl would on your breakfast table) rather than towards the horizon (all the cereal would fall out). That reduces the 'sail area' of the telescope. Back in 1976, similar gales with winds of around 90 mph (145 km/h) nearly ended in disaster for the 76m Lovell Telescope or Mark 1a as it was called then. The dish came within a centimetre or so of falling off the circular railway track that it sits on. The dish was saved by some quick thinking engineers who rotated the telescope around by 180 degrees to let the wind blow it back! Luckily, the plan worked and the dish weathered out that storm.

Since then, extra support girders have been added and the dish is supposed to be rated up to 100 mph (160 km/h). Big telescopes have collapsed before, so whenever the wind gets high like it did today, everyone on site gets a little nervous.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 18th Jan 2007 (17:15 GMT) | Permalink
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