Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Looking Back

Amidst all the acrimony and misunderstanding regarding the border disputes between the US and Mexico there is an exciting example of collaboration between these two neighbours. Since 1995, work has been progressing on what is soon to be the largest large-millimetre telescope in the world. Given the requirement for a telescope, there is some question as to how large the millimetres in question actually are. In any case, when it is completed, it will allow scientists to look back 13 billion years to a time shortly after the beginnings of the universe; just after the Big Bang. (Note: this term should not be confused with the Swedish movie of the same name.)

Mexico’s contribution to this endeavour has been crucial to the success of the project. It seems that the plans called for a very tall, extinct volcano. At about 15,000 feet, Sierra Negra is higher than any peaks north of the border. Mexican President Vincente Fox says this shows how a developing country can play a major role in cutting-edge technology. Apparently, having a tall, extinct volcano in your country is something of a technological accomplishment.

Of course, building a giant telescope with a 165 foot diameter antenna on top of a volcano is a technological accomplishment. Hauling 13,000 tons of concrete to the top of Sierra Negra was quite a job. The first plan was to use mules. Construction director Emanuel Mendez said, “Mules are the best road engineers in the world.” Unfortunately, using mules meant that the project would require another 13 billion years to get everything to the top of the volcano. Luckily, this presented an opportunity to contribute to the local economy. Hundreds of local villagers were hired to haul concrete to the summit in their cars. After making 13,000 trips up the volcano loaded with concrete, each car was resold to a Tijuana taxicab company at a handsome profit.

The US contribution to this $120 million plan has so far been $38 million, about 75% of which has been kicked in by the Department of Defence. H I’s military affairs correspondent, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Karl ‘Hardnut’ Magruder, has looked into this program. Magruder reports, “Project Galactic Hammer is critical to the War on Terror. The enemies of freedom proved that they are willing and able to pull off a big bang once. Intercepts from Swedish mobile telephones have picked up worrying chatter about another big bang. We are also aggressively following up on reports of smaller, test bangs across the Middle East. This project is an important temporary defence measure until Haliburton can build a 35,000 foot volcano in Iowa.”

Reactions to the project have been mixed. Noting that the site of the telescope is 15,000 feet above sea level and much of her state is below seal level, Louisiana’s Governor Blanco has asked Congress to set up a $27 billion altitude compensation fund. Reverend Pat Robertson has demanded that the telescope only be used to look back 8,274 years. “There’s nothing older than that anyway,” he said. Former Vice-President Al Gore does not plan to comment until he finishes inventing the long meter telescope.

Although the telescope is designed to pick up ultra-distant radio waves that started just after the big bang, the American Civil Liberties Union has not decided whether to file the mother of all class action lawsuits: sue the government for eavesdropping on the entire universe without a warrant.


Blogger planetmoron said...

Do you think they could point that thing over my way? I need to look back three days to see where I left my car keys.

5:31 PM  
Blogger birdwoman said...

Wouldn't it be funny if they really did hear a big Bang?

and I wouldn't put it past LA to ask for altitude equality. They seem to have their palms out for everything else. Especially new school buses.


2:39 PM  
Blogger siren said...

I loved the comment about Al Gore :)

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done on a nice post Mead telescopes. I was looking for some data on Mead telescopes and came across your blog. I'm really interested in finding info on Mead telescopes - pretty crucial I do it quick for my uni research project.

If you do get a moment, perhaps you'd care to visit my new astronomy site: Astronomy Telescopes. Thanks!

11:19 AM  

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