Lassell Telescope Project


The telescope under construction.

A 20ft long telescope used by one of Britain's leading astronomers 150 years ago is to be reconstructed and restored to its original condition in Liverpool.

Brewing magnate and amateur astronomer William Lassell. designed and built the huge telescope from his Liverpool home. With its 24 inch metal mirror, it was the most powerful telescope in England when it was completed in 1845. Now, 150 years later, the project to rebuild the telescope is the result of a special collaboration between a private sector company, two Liverpool universities and National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside (NMGM).

Lassell made several major discoveries with the telescope, including that of Triton, a moon of Neptune. This was the first time a large reflecting telescope had been mounted in the equatorial plane so that it could track the stars. Astronomers from Liverpool Museum, which is part of NMGM, still have the telescope's original optics, and now, exactly 150 years since Lassell had it built, they have begun an exciting project to reconstruct the instrument in every detail.

The project is sponsored by Royal Insurance, whose UK head office is in Liverpool. Royal approached Liverpool Museum to help celebrate the company's 150th anniversary. Royal director and general manager Stephen Pater said: "We were looking for a project based on Merseyside which we could develop jointly to celebrate our anniversary. Our company was formed in Liverpool in 1845, at the same time as William Lassell was completing his historic telescope. Now, 150 years later, the rebuilding of the telescope takes on a special significance for us and it is an exciting project to be involved in."

Royal and NMGM are working with astronomers and engineers from Liverpool, Oxford and Liverpool John Moores University, and the Liverpool Astronomical Society to develop the project.

The carefully researched, detailed work is due to be finished by autumn 1996, the 150th anniversary of the discovery of Neptune and of Lassell's first sighting of its moon, Triton. Further major discoveries followed: in 1848 Lassell co-discovered Hyperion, the eighth moon of Saturn, and in 1851 he found two moons circling the planet Uranus. The reconstructed telescope will be used during the Neptune 150th anniversary celebrations - possibly on the original site, which is now a school playground in West Derby, Liverpool. It is planned that afterwards it can again be put to regular use watching the stars.

Dr Patrick Moore inspects Mirror
Dr Patrick Moore inspects the telescope's speculum mirror
and a model of how the instrument looked in Lassell's observatory
(Courtesy of National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside)

Dr Patrick Moore visited the Liverpool Museum to launch the Lassell Telescope Project on 15th Feb 1995. Also present to launch the project was the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside director Richard Foster and Royal Insurance general manager Stephen Pater. Representing Liverpool University at the launch were, Gerard Gilligan, a technician in the Department of Veterinary Preclinical Sciences and member of the Liverpool Astronomical Society, who has written a booklet on Lassell, and Philip Pennington of Liverpool University's History of Science and Technology group, where the project will form part of a student's M.Sc dissertation.

Members of The History of Science and Technology Group from the University of Liverpool (in the form of Dr David Edwards, Jeff Hall and Phil Pennington) are contributing to the 24" telescope replication.

A book describing the re-construction of the telescope, and its relation to the work of William Lassell, will be published as part of the project. Contact the Liverpool Museum for information.

The Lassell Telescope.
William Lassell a brief history.
William Lassell (1799-1880) and the discovery of Triton, 1846 by Allan Chapman.

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Last modified October 4, 2005