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Il professor Bernard Lovell ci ha lasciati .....


TT-1 Pinto
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Chi ha memoria dei primi avvenimenti della corsa allo spazio non potrà non ricordare il fattivo contributo che il professor Lovell diede, attraverso il suo grande radiotelescopio, al rilevamento dei primi satelliti artificiali e sonde interplanetarie lanciate dall' uomo ....

 

Bernard Lovell

 

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Professor Sir Bernard Lovell, founder of Britain’s Jodrell Bank radio telescope, died on August 6th, aged 98 ....

 

Fonte .... THE ECONOMIST - Aug 18th 2012 (from the print edition)

 

Human senses discern only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Sir Bernard Lovell’s great radio telescope at Jodrell Bank sees some of the rest, helping scientists make sense of the universe: its age, origin, size, and the mysteries of its quasars, pulsars and black holes.

 

His wartime work had used magnetrons, now commonplace in microwave ovens, but then top-secret, to guide Allied bombers to their targets and spot submarine periscopes. Hitler blamed a big naval setback on his inventions, which later earned him a medal. But the wartime radar screens had also spotted other puzzling radio-frequency phenomena: signs perhaps of cosmic rays, perhaps of meteors. And were they from the solar system, or from outside it?

 

That question took him to a muddy field 20 miles from Manchester (electrical interference from trams made the city centre too noisy, and the university’s botany department had some spare land). His apparatus was two trailers of ex-army equipment, and a diesel generator. His first staff, the gardeners Alf Dean and Frank Foden, helped him crank it into life. Early research involved a colleague lying in a deckchair in the night-time open air with a piece of string to measure the meteors, while he observed electromagnetic signals on a cathode-ray tube in a nearby hut. They communicated by shouting.

 

Barely ten years later, Jodrell Bank was home to the world’s largest steerable radio telescope, known initially as Mark I and now named after its founder. Bringing it to completion required great grit and ingenuity. Nothing of its kind had been built before. Mr Lovell (as he was until his knighthood in 1961) scrounged kit from wartime pals, now in high places. Two huge naval gun turrets (still in use) were a vital find.

 

He had vision, willpower and the unstinting support of Manchester University (where academics and administrators acted with a freedom that their successors nowadays can only dream of). But these were only a part-substitute for the cash, steel and skills that post-war Britain lacked. Strikes brought repeated delays. Scientific and engineering egos clashed. The project was wildly over budget. One initial estimate was £60,000; it ended up costing £670,000, or roughly £13m ($21m) in today’s money. Locals fumed when the need for electromagnetic silence blocked development. A parliamentary inquiry—wrongly—blamed the engineer in charge, Charles Husband, for unauthorised and costly changes. The press mocked “Lovell’s folly”. Bureaucrats quailed, telling him that he was liable for half the money. He warned his children that prison loomed.

 

Both telescope and founder were saved by the two Soviet Sputnik satellites launched in 1957. Though the Jodrell Bank apparatus was not specifically designed to track the ballistic missiles that launched them, the almost-completed antenna—with a few hurried adaptations to use it for radar—was the only place in the world that could. That was an extraordinary achievement. Cheers replaced jeers. The BBC issued an invitation to give the prestigious Reith lectures. Eventually Lord Nuffield, a British car industry-tycoon, cleared the project’s remaining debts.

 

In great secrecy, America requested aid in tracking its own missiles (though the story came out when a journalist noticed a huge trailer parked at the site emblazoned “United States Air Force”). Jodrell Bank was for a time the West’s only early-warning system against a Soviet nuclear attack.

 

Bigger questions ....

 

But Sir Bernard detested cold-war intrigues (and spoke caustically and cryptically of them in later life; his private dossier on that era is due to be released next month). Unusually for the times, he pioneered scientific co-operation across the Iron Curtain, becoming close friends with Soviet astrophysicists (his children gave up their bedrooms when they came to stay). Jodrell Bank confirmed the success of the first Soviet moon-rocket in 1959. The Soviet Union gave him photographs of the far side of the moon in thanks.

 

He was also open-minded on—and drawn to—questions of science and faith. More a churchgoer than a Christian, he played the organ in his local parish church, St Peter’s, Swettenham, for 40 years, and attended evensong. On the deepest questions, he believed, cosmology must give way to metaphysics. He said in his final Reith lecture:

 

"I am no more surprised or distressed at the limitation of science when faced with this great problem of creation than I am at the limitation of the spectroscope in describing the radiance of a sunset or at the theory of counterpoint in describing the beauty of a fugue."

 

The author of classic textbooks and scientific papers as well as many popular works, Sir Bernard remained a dogged defender of his project (in later years hugely expanded and upgraded). He fought an attempt to close it in 2008, and spent many working afternoons there late into his retirement years. It is now the nerve centre of what will be the world’s biggest telescope, the multinational Square Kilometre Array. But he remained modest about the limits of its discoveries. In his 90s he said he had never in his life been “faced with so many unanswered questions as now”.

 

http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/news/2012/SirBernard/

 

http://www.physicstoday.org/1.2833184

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/science/space/sir-bernard-lovell-dies-at-98-a-radio-telescope-bears-his-name.html?_r=1&ref=science

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-19164237

 

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/338974/Obituary-Sir-Bernard-Lovell-visionary-astronomer-August-31-1913-August-6-2012

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Torno sull'argomento per segnalare questo interessante articolo che racconta di come, nel 1966, l'equipe del Professor Lovell "rubò" ai Sovietici le immagini della superficie lunare ....

 

http://blogs.airspacemag.com/moon/2012/08/scooping-the-soviets/#

 

 

Grazie TT-1 Pinto; adoro queste piccole perle di storia. :)

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