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.