The battle between nature and astronomy

Today we dragged the kidz up to the Maroon Bells for a healthy hike. The driver of the bus up to the “Wilderness Portal” announced that an aspen grove in a neighbouring valley is the largest single organism on Planet Earth. Apparently there is a rival claim for some kind of  vast fungus in Oregon, but in Colorado they know the truth. Of course astronomers and sci-fi junkies know that the Black Cloud was much bigger.

Lifeforms on a more modest scale can cause problems for astronomy. Snapping shrimp can fake the effect of high energy neutrinos in underwater acoustic detectors. Astronomers from Arizona just hate them pesky squirrels. (Compare this and this .)  Auger apparently had problems with cows using the detectors as scratching posts. (Can’t find a web reference…)

On Friday in Aspen we heard from Brian Schmidt about a new example. The Australian Skymapper project is going very well. Telescope commissioned, camera nearly ready. But whats holding them back is ladybirds. They crawl all over the structure, get inside the optical dome encoders, and poor ole skymapper can’t figure out how to point out of the slit. Gaaaghh.

Of course the old timers will remember the infamous gold spot problem. Some people think it was a purely chemical problem, but I know it was caused by an alien virus that leaked out of Roswell.

6 Responses to The battle between nature and astronomy

  1. Tony says:

    ‘The Black Cloud’: first sf book I ever read and the start of a life-long love. And only because it was on a high-school reading list, as well.

  2. Michael Merrifield says:

    On one observing run on Mount Hopkins, I had close encounters with a bear, a rattlesnake and a moth. Bizarrely, it was the moth that did the serious physical damage.

    • andyxl says:

      Did you get any clear nights on Mt Hopkins ? My CfA friends used to call it “the Mt Hopkins Obscuratory”. They should have listened to the local Indians, who called it “Old Cloudy Top”.

      • Michael Merrifield says:

        On the whole, my luck was pretty good on Mt Hopkins. It even extended to the part of the MMT top box that fell off in the middle of the night missing all six primary mirrors on its way down (which gives you some idea how long ago this was!). It made a very impressive amount to noise at 3AM, though.

  3. Nick Cross says:

    I thought that moths were the origins of computer bugs: they were attracted to the light of the punch card readers at night and often blocked some of the holes in the punch cards that way.

  4. Michael Merrifield says:

    In this case, it was a moth flying into my face that caused me to twist my head, dislodge my glasses, and destroy them on a concrete floor.

    The rattle snake, I have to say, was scarier, though. Checking for clouds outside the dome in the pitch dark, I suddenly heard that rattling noise, and had no clue which direction it was coming from. I think I somehow managed to levitate to get back inside!

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