A rose in winter, a field in Cheshire and a radio universe

A woodpecker drilling in a local garden, a single rose standing tall in a rose garden, and a grey and misty dawn over the river, on this absurdly warm December day. Daffodils are in flower they tell me, but not here. There are I hope snows to come, and chill sunsets and frosty dawns.

Last night the sun set behind Jodrell Bank – in a BBC4 TV programme celebrating the radio telescope and Bernard Lovell, its legendary director. I drive past it whenever I’m heading to the family home in north Cheshire, along a stretch of road between Chelford and Twemlow. The 250ft high bowl and its skeleton frame tower high above. It’s Cheshire farming country, as it was when I cycled out there as a teenager, and stood in awe – little has changed. The same houses, the same brick, the open fields and woodland brakes. And this the telescope that tracked Russian rockets in the Cold War, against Lovell’s better instincts, and explored the radio universe for evidence of the big bang, played a part in the discovery of pulsars (a regular pulse instead of static) and continues to this day to explore the far reaches of the universe. Dark matter isn’t beyond its gaze, though multiverses remain the province of the mathematicians.

I wanted to be an astrophysicist until I learnt it wasn’t enough to be simply numerate. Long equations floored me. (But still fascinate.) But Jodrell Bank against a sunset sky, or rising up dark in the night, a shadow which might have come out of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds – that still amazes. Jodrell Bank is home territory, as the stars and the wide universe were home for me, in my back garden as a 12-year-old, staring up each night, with my star charts.

Lovell was brought up a Methodist, and never lost his sense of wonder, or his sense of the limits of scientific knowledge. He also captained Chelford cricket club. What more could you ask of a man.

 

 

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