Bernard Lovell | Telescope creator, 98

Sir Bernard Lovell in 2007.
Sir Bernard Lovell in 2007. (JON SUPER / Associated Press, file)
Posted: August 11, 2012

Sir Bernard Lovell, 98, a pioneer in radar and radio telescopes from the days when the technology helped save Britain in World War II until the beginning of the space age, died Monday at his home in Swettenham Village, England.

Sir Bernard, who became widely known through his books, lectures, and BBC television appearances, was especially renowned for creating the Jodrell Bank radio telescope, the only antenna that could track rockets in space in the early years of the space race.

Sir Bernard was also the founder and until 1980 the director of what is now the Jodrell Bank Center for Astrophysics, near Manchester. The center's 250-foot-wide white dish, mounted on latticework steel towers high in the English countryside, is today the third-largest steerable radio telescope in the world.

On Oct. 4, 1957 - just two months after the Jodrell Bank telescope began operating - the Soviets launched Sputnik atop an R-7 rocket that had been designed to deliver a nuclear warhead. Western officials turned to Sir Bernard and his telescope to track it. Sputnik emitted a radio signal that made it easy to follow, but only Sir Bernard's radio telescope could track the rocket that put Sputnik into orbit.

When the battery in Sputnik that powered the radio signal ran out after 22 days, even the Soviets had to turn to Jodrell Bank for help in tracking it as it finished its three months in orbiting before falling back to Earth.

As the United States and the Soviet Union competed in the race that ultimately led to the moon, the Jodrell Bank antenna's unique ability to track objects in space made Sir Bernard an independent observer of each side's claims to success.

During World War II, Sir Bernard led a team in developing a British airborne radar, H2S, to guide bombers to their targets.

- N.Y. Times News Service