It's nice to know that people can still have big dreams.
June 17, 2000 12:59 AM   Subscribe

It's nice to know that people can still have big dreams. This is not hallucination; these guys are very serious and very practical and their credentials suggest that they know exactly what they're doing. It's the same team which is just finishing the Very Large Telescope project, which when complete will be the biggest scope in the world, and will be more sensitive and get better pictures than the Hubble. Scopes #1 and #2 are now online, #3 is in engineering shakeout, and first light for #4 is coming shortly. All four scopes will work together to generate images using interferometry.
posted by Steven Den Beste (2 comments total)
Continuing: Some of the engineering documentation on the construction of the VLT is online, and as an engineer myself, I was awed by the brilliance of the work and the attention to detail. For instance, one of the big enemies of scopes is rippling in the air caused by changes in temperature. Each day, weathermen predict what the temperature will be that night, and the scope enclosures are air conditioned to those temperatures so that when they are opened, no warm air billows out to screw up "seeing". (Humans rarely go into the enclosures, by the way.)Another thing is the bearings. These scopes are heavy and they have to constantly move while doing timed exposures (to track the sky), and they have to move extremely smoothly -- and they do. All bearings involve friction, and all friction generates heat, and heat causes that interference I mentioned. So every bearing is water cooled. And that's just some of the things they thought through.
Antu (scope #1) has been online for about a year and just by its lonesome (at 8.2 meters) it's one of the largest scopes in the world, and has one of the best imaging systems ("FORS1") in existence on it. Kueyen (#2) came online last fall. Between the two of them they have captured some truly mind boggling pictures; these are well worth spending some time viewing. I particularly like the nebula and galaxy images.
I cringe when I think how much the FORS1 CCD must have cost: a perfectCCD with an area of 25 square cm? (And even though this is a European project, when time came to build the CCD, they went to an American vendor, because only the best will do.)
Anyway, if these guys think they can make a steerable 100 meter mirror, I believe them.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:20 AM on June 17, 2000

To know that people can do things so carefully, and create an item of such precision makes me proud beyond words. Truly beautiful. This is the closest I come to feeling anything akin to religion. Just maybe, we as a race do not suck.
posted by thirteen at 3:39 PM on June 23, 2000

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