The earliest surviving radio observatory in the world has been nominated to join the ranks of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.

Jodrell Bank.

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The giant dishes of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, as well as the auxiliary buildings surrounding them, have been nominated by the British Government as an UNESCO world heritage site. Work performed at the Observatory in the early days of the space age changed our understanding of the universe and made possible man’s first tentative steps towards the stars.

The march of progress

The complex is part of the University of Manchester and was founded in 1945 when Sir Bernard Lovell decided to move his laboratory here so he could get some peace and quiet away from the radio interference of the city. It’s now the earliest surviving radio astronomy observatory in the world, and the site (still operational) includes a hodge-podge of structures inherited from every phase of development in this field of research.

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“The Jodrell Bank Observatory, and Lovell Telescope in particular, have become icons of science and engineering around the world,” says Professor Teresa Anderson, director of the discovery center at Jodrell Bank.

The center has been working on making a case for nomination for several years now, and Professor Anderson says they’re “delighted to reach this milestone.”

Standing just under 90 meters tall, the Lovell Telescope was the first of its kind in the world. It’s still the third largest today, and Historic England (HE) already gave it — and the more recent Mark II telescope beside it — a grade I listing. However, last August, HE also listed the group of buildings (they’re mostly glorified sheds) surrounding the telescopes. This included Lovell’s 1950s control room and the electrical workshop which served as the site’s office, library, and lecture room. HE’s listing was announced to mark the 60-year anniversary since the telescope started operations.

The site is rich in scientific history. The Lovell telescope tracked the first artificial satellite, USSR’s Sputnik I, making its way around the planet. It’s the single remaining site worldwide that has been a working observatory since the earliest days of radio astronomy, and the only one to include evidence of all stages of the post-1945 development of radio astronomy.

In recognition of all these facts, Jodrell Bank will be put forward to become UK’s 32nd world heritage site, sometime in 2019.

“The nomination process for Unesco is rightly thorough,” says heritage minister Michael Ellis, “but I believe Jodrell Bank deserves to be recognised.”

If designated, it would join the likes of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canyon in the US as sites with outstanding value to the world.