The Liverpool Telescope - How it began

Saturday, 8 April 2017  |  Neil Parker

Professor Mike Bode wanted a telescope. He had in mind a 1-metre and wanted to buy one from an american manufacturer. To raise money for the project he had written to several companies including GEC. The response he received from them was along the lines of 'why should a British company give you money to spend in America'. When Mike told me this I said 'Why don't we build the telescope for you?' it might make it easier to raise the funding.

We agreed to put together a new proposal between Liverpool John Moors University (JMU) and the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) based on the RGO designing and building a 1-metre telescope.

About the same time the RGO had been discussing building a 1-metre telescope for the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) based in Pune, India. Professor Jayant Narlikar was our contact there.

In Liverpool a fund-raising committee was formed chaired by Sir Patrick Moore. We had met several times when the EU granted Liverpool Objective 1 status which meant there were substantial grants available so this became our main target. A consultant was brought in with experience of writing successful proposals and we submitted his proposal. It was rejected initially but we were told to rewrite it and resubmit. I finished the rewrite at 3 a.m. on the submission day and after a bit of negotiation we got a substantial grant.

As a result I was able to go back to Professor Narlikar to say we could share development costs and build his telescope more cheaply. His reply was to ask if we could make it bigger instead. After discussion with Mike Bode we decided to build two 2-metre telescopes, one for JMU and one for IUCAA. A trip to India saw the contract with IUCAA being signed.

IUCAA in Pune, India

The IUCAA in Pune, India where the contract was signed by Prof Narlikar and myselh

Concept designs were completed, mirrors ordered and detailed design began. JMU were keen for the manufacture to be done on Merseyside and one of the conditions of the EU grant was to create jobs in Liverpool. So, we formed a company called Telescope Technology Limited (TTL). It was wholly owned by JMU.

A new development called 12 Quays was chosen for the factory and JMU's Astrophysics group moved into a new building nearby. All looked to be going well when a major spanner was thrown into the works when the closure of the RGO was announced. The reasons for the scientific community making this decision, which was backed by the government, were not based on sound evidence but nevertheless the closure went ahead ending 323 years of scientific instrument building and service to science.

To cut a long story short, a core team moved from the RGO to Liverpool and the telescope project continued. The two telescopes were built and both have been operating successfully for many years.

The Liverpool Telescope on La Palma

The Liverpool Telescope on La Palma

IUCAA's Girawali Observatory near Pune, India

IUCAA's Girawali Observatory near Pune, India where TTL's second 2m telescope was inaugurated in 2007


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