Accidents do happen

March 2, 2012

Maybe time to move on from the religion wars.

In case you hadn’t heard, there was an accident recently at the 4m Blanco telescope at CTIO. The f/8 secondary had been removed to allow the installation of the camera for the Dark Energy Survey (DES). At first I heard a rumour it had actually fallen out, but it wasn’t quite that dramatic. The cart carrrying it on the dome floor toppled over. Two technicians were injured, but it seems they will be ok. The mirror is cracked. DES soldiers on apparently.

I guess we should be grateful it wasn’t worse in human terms. Telescopes are huge chunks of balanced metal and glass, and their infrastructure is chock full of electrical, chemical, and mechanical hazards.

I just know that every infra-red astronomer over a certain age is thinking of Marc Aaronson. Marc was killed in 1987 in a freak accident at Blanco’s twin, the 4m Mayall telescope on Kitt Peak. He was crushed by the revolving dome. The NY times news article is here  and there is a Wikipedia page  about Marc. Steward Observatory set up a Memorial Lectureship, which has  has had some very distinguished holders, including two subsequent Nobel prize winners.

I am aware of other close calls. The week before one of my WHT observing runs, a parked car was destroyed by a huge slab of ice sliding off the dome. Nobody was inside, luckily. They don’t park there any more. Visitors to the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hawaii may recall a scary photo just above the reception hatch, which I reproduce here.

Overturned Bronco on Mauna Kea Summit Road

This is what happens if you drive too fast on the Mauna Kea summit road. This picture is actually from the wall in JAC. I don't know who took it. I think this is a scan of a 35mm slide of a picture I took of the picture many years ago !

Academics hate bureaucracy of course. A favourite whinge is  “Health and Safety”. Well, I guess its true that it is often the victim of administrative excess … but … accidents do happen, boys and girls.