Dangling from the ceiling of the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire is an expansive mobile replica of our solar system that serves as a stunning reminder of our place in the galaxy, and in the universe.
Opened in March 2013, this clockwork orrery — a mechanical model of the solar system used to demonstrate the motion of the planets — is one of the newest exhibits at the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre at the University of Manchester. With a diameter of 5 meters (16 feet), it’s one of the largest orreries in the world. It’s also a beautiful work of engineering.
The rates of rotation and revolution of the planets are expertly timed with a system of 52 brass gears working in tandem, while the mechanism turns against a giant clock face that shows accurate real-time maps of the constellations. Visitors can also control the movement of the planets with a large handle, and learn about the scale of the universe from other interactive exhibits in the centre’s Planet Pavilion gallery.
Even before this impressive orrery was installed, the Jodrell Bank Observatory was a draw for space fans and an important landmark in England. It’s home to the famous Lovell radio telescope, which at the time it was built in 1957 also held the title of being the largest in the world, and today is the third largest.
Know Before You Go
The Discovery Centre is open to the public from 10am to 5pm every day, last admission at 4pm. The Centre is occasionally closed for special events or public holidays.