8 Aug 2012

Pioneer of British radio astronomy dies

6:45 am on 8 August 2012

The British pioneer of radio astronomy, Bernard Lovell, has died at the age of 98.

Sir Bernard was the founder and first director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, where he conceived and built a gigantic radio telescope in the 1950s. Within days of becoming operational, it tracked the rocket that carried the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1 into orbit.

It remains the third largest steerable telescope in the world, the BBC reports, and plays a key role in global research on pulsating stars, testing extreme physics theories such as Einstein's general theory of relativity.

The telescope and his other contributions to radio astronomy led to Sir Bernard being knighted in 1961.

He deplored the misapplication of technology by governments and the military, saying it gave science a bad name. In a BBC Reith Lecture delivered in 1958, he said it was worrying that in recent years

"science has so often become the scapegoat for the evils of the world".

The Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, says Sir Bernard ranks as one of the great visionary leaders of science.

"He had the boldness and self-confidence to conceive a giant radio telescope, and the persistence to see it through to completion, despite the risk of bankruptcy," Lord Rees says.

"What is even more remarkable is that, more than 50 years later, this instrument (after several upgrades) is still doing 'frontier' science."