On Friday 24th of March a number of GCSE Astronomy and A Level Physics students visited the Bernard Lovell Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank, near Manchester. The largest steerable radio telescope in Britain, it has played an important role in many of the discoveries about our Universe over the last sixty years.
On arrival, the students attended a radio astronomy workshop. One of their first tasks was to sketch a miniature 2-D representation of the much larger telescope visible through the window. They then learnt how the radio waves are reflected to a single point and how the nature of waves makes it necessary for the telescope to be so large and built to such a high degree of precision. They also found out how readings from the Lovell telescope can be combined with radio telescopes from around the world to give us an ever clearer picture of our galaxy and beyond.
Later on, the students analysed some data taken by one of the radio telescopes on the site. They looked at how an effect known as redshifting gives us information about the movement and rotation of one of our galactic neighbours, known as the Triangulum Galaxy. Being able to calculate the speed of the Triangulum Galaxy’s rotational speed, they were able to perform maths, courtesy of Isaac Newton, to weigh the entire galaxy.
After the workshop, the students attended a presentation in the planetarium. They were shown some of the constellations visible from Britain during late winter and early spring. One of these is Orion, which not only is one of the more prominent constellations, but also its features tell the life story of a typical (and not so typical) star. The students were shown images of nebulae, star clusters and neutron stars as well as objects much close to home such as the Moon and planets.
Before leaving there was time to see some of the exhibits around the site. These included a series of photographs taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts, the First Light exhibitions as well as a number of outside, hands-on exhibits demonstrating scientific principles such as reflection, acceleration due to gravity and moments of inertia.
The day trip was an opportunity for the students to not only learn new things but also for them to contextualise what they had already learned in Physics and Astronomy. They were also able to use the skills they had acquired in other subjects such as Mathematics. They were also able to hear from people who are part of our continuous quest to find out more about our Universe.
Hopefully students had an educational and enjoyable experience and I’m sure that they would join me in thanking Mr Wilson, Mr Hannard and Mrs Baldwin for helping to make the visit possible.
Dr M Durell