Sir Bernard Lovell (1913-2012)

It was with great sadness that I saw the news this morning that pioneering radio astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell died yesterday (August 6th). Sir Bernard was the founder of Jodrell Bank Observatory and built the 76m diameter Mark I telescope which was named after him in 1987.

Sir Bernard was an inspiration to many people over the years. His telescope was being built in 1957 and was quickly completed to detect the carrier rockets that launched Sputnik and the space age. As well as playing its part in verifying (or not) the US and Russian efforts in the space race, the observatory that Sir Bernard built has gone on to do great things in science. It was instrumental in identifying that quasars are very distant radio galaxies, it helped push forward the field of interferometry, and has contributed massively to the discovery of many pulsars over the years.

There is no doubt that Sir Bernard has inspired many hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists and engineers who studied, worked or visited the observatory. Not only that but Sir Bernard was a pioneer in communicating science to the public since 1957 and was instrumental in making sure there was a public visitor centre on site.

Sir Bernard was already retired when I arrived at Jodrell as a student but I was massively impressed that he still came into his office, chatted to people in the tea room and even attended the odd seminar despite then being in his late 80s. He was already a legend to us students and I remember being in awe the first time he talked to me even if it was only to help him with the photocopier.

Another memory I have is when the Sky At Night came to Jodrell to film for the 50th anniversary of Sputnik in 2007 (they also talked to him in 1981 - H/T to Chris Lintott). The producer wanted to film Sir Patrick Moore talking to Sir Bernard with the telescope behind them and that meant being outside. When it started to rain, I ended up holding an umbrella over Sir Bernard whilst Chris Lintott held one over Sir Patrick so they could carry on.

A few years ago we did a series of interviews with Sir Bernard for the Jodcast and they are well worth a listen: parts 1, 2, and 3 from 2007, and another for the anniversary of the Moon landings in 2009. There is a thread on the Jodcast forum if you want to leave your memories.

Sir Bernard was a great man and will be missed. It is a very sad day for radio astronomy.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 07th Aug 2012 (11:02 BST) | Permalink
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