Celebrity Leakthrough

August 14, 2013

My exchange with Dr E over intersecting with Amanda Palmer reminded me of a post from a few years back, where I described minor connections with celebrity – living across the road from Norman Wisdom’s Aunty, knowing someone who had his boots stolen by Donovan and so on. Sometimes I get the feeling of a ghostly parallel universe of celebrities, which occasionally leaks through into ours at weak points in the space-time continuum.

Sometimes there are astronomical versions, but it only really works with impressionable postgrads and postdocs. Later on you get jaded and you’ve met everybody anyway. As a spotty astro-yoof, after my first observing run at CTIO, I caught a tourist bus back down the mountain and found myself sitting next to a long haired hippy type who turned out to be Kip Thorne. He hadn’t been observing – theorist and all that – but was just being a tourist with his also-groovy wife, looking at the telescopes. I had been reading Misner Thorne and Wheeler and had assumed that whoever constructed that five inch thick masterpiece must be a god-like alien only temporarily passing through our galaxy. Finding the god on a bus was kinda weird. He probably said all sorts of deep things, but all I remember is that he complained that the CTIO compound had American airbread.  Never seen him again of course and he wouldn’t know me from Adam.

I am sure there is some kind of story about Dr E being ill on the back of a bus full of famous astronomers, but can’t quite reconstruct it.

So if anybody has spilled beer on Fred Hoyle, or has been to the same hairdresser as Martin Rees etc etc, do let us know.

The battle between nature and astronomy

June 29, 2009

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.