Night Tour of the ‘Scope

Eduardo Marin points out the oil systems upon which the telescope rests

Eduardo Marin points out the oil systems upon which the telescope rests

Re-coating the mirror area
Astronomer Eduardo Marin and telescope operator David K search for results

Astronomer Eduardo Marin and telescope operator David K search for results

a place to test a newly arrived instrument before attaching it to the telescope

a place to test a newly arrived instrument before attaching it to the telescope

Gemini chief astronomer for the evening, Eduardo Marin, took a break from the evening’s frustrating weather (clouds) to give the visiting astronomers and me a tour of the telescope. What a tour! Although I had been trotted through the facility and given a perfectly decent tour last Monday by Outreach worker, Manuel Parades, this was a tour in a million. Eduardo knows every screw on every instrument on each of the four floors of the complex. Even the shipping department is fascinating. There are hoists and machines for getting the mirror down to its re coating tank for some fresh silver and other compounds and hoisting it back up to the telescope and these are mighty. The back up power system is ready for the power cuts that happen during winter storms. Glycol for basic chilling of things and helium for others — the chemistry, electrical parts and the mechanical elements are all complex and beautiful. The engines to move the tons of engineering which constitute the telescope are fairly modest because the whole thing is resting on a bed of oil, so there is very little friction. Because this night the telescope was still struggling to obtain some data, a lot of the tour was in the dark with flashlights because no light must get in the way of the telescope. So the overall impression was that we were a small band of people trailing around with flashlights and probing this temple devoted to outer space. Sort of like a Grimm’s fairytale, with Gothic lighting.

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