Jodrell Bank – an astronomical view

In the heart of Cheshire and only a few miles from my home resides the giant radio telescope, Jodrell Bank. I pass this impressive structure quite frequently but yesterday noticed it looked very different. It was 6pm and the sky was pitch black and for the first time the giant white dish was illuminated brightly against the starry sky. My wife is a keen amateur astronomer and already knew Jodrell Bank had been chosen as the primary location for hosting the BBC TV program, Stargazing Live (hosted by Brian Cox and featuring Dara O’Briain and Jonathan Ross). The program runs for three consecutive nights and is aired live on BBC2 from the 3rd until the 5th of January. I realised the fact the telescope was illuminated was likely to be quite a rare event since clearly the lighting had been provided by a tv crew. I therefore decided to photograph it in the hope of getting a few exclusives.

Armed with my Nikon D700 and a Nikon 70-200 VR 2.8 lens, I found the perfect location in a nearby farmer’s field and planned to shoot after sunset and just prior to the sky changing from sunset to blackness.

At this point in time you can balance an artificially lit subject with the subtly lit sky from a sun that had been set for around half an hour, creating a fantastic rich-blue background. However, after standing for an hour in a temperature of minus 2 degrees, neither the telescope nor the neighbouring farmhouse (which I was using for scale) were illuminated, leaving me with two silhouettes against the Cheshire landscape and darkening sky. Just as everything went black, suddenly both the farmhouse and telescope were floodlit within a few minutes of each other. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the rich blue sky effect that I was after for my subsequent shots but at least I captured some pretty impressive images. A short drive to a change of location gained me a few more angles on the subject.

All images were captured with a Nikon D700 at 500 iso. Lenses were Nikon 70-200 vr 2.8 and the closer shots were captured with a Nikon 28-300 vr and a Manfrotto tripod. First image settings – 110mm, F2.8, 1/10th of a sec, 500 iso. Second image settings – 65mm, F14, 13 secs, 500 iso.

Click any image for a larger view.

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