19 October 2006

Earthquakes and telescopes

After jetheral pointed out this article to me but before I even read it, I realized that earthquakes can be devastating to telescopes - and perhaps the world's best observatory is at Mauna Kea. To start off, I can't really picture telescopes being mounted on shocks or something b/c the pier's supposed to be directly into bedrock so no building vibrations mess with the image. Add to that, that if the location of the telescope (or the whole island) shifts in an earthquake, something will need to be fixed to account for that.

And in fact, I'm right on that last one - one of the tele's shifted by as much as an inch, and they're going to have to recalibrate a crap. Thankfully no mounts or optics were damaged, my collaborator tells me that there actually were some stabilizing equipment on Keck 2 that probably saved it, only things like encoders (tell position), breaks, and the location calibration. I'm curious as to how long that'll all take to fix, b/c those telescopes with damage are useless until that happens.

Ooh, and I know major telescopes are insured by Swiss banks or whatever, I wonder if they get to collect here.

ETA: The CFRT is back online! The Kecks are not (as of Fri Oct 19).


Galbinus_Caeli said...

Strange that it did not occur to me. Usually I see such things.

Glad nothing is broken.

I have wondered in the past about the Mauna Kea observatories and techtonic movements. I think of volcanos (even long dormant ones) as being at least somewhat active and how even little tremors that would cause image artifacts.

zandperl said...

Well, there are a bunch of things broken, but "minor" things, nothing that can't be fixed. Ooh, the CFHT is back online already! Awesome. I was worried it'd take weeks and millions of dollars to get things back working.

It's not so much that tremors would make "image artifacts" - artifacts are little things as a result of minor imperfections in the optics. I'm under the impression that anything a tremor does would be an all or nothing thing: either it does nothing, or it does something that stops the telescope from being functional. There's nothing a tremor could do (I don't think) that would leave a telescope with imor image flaws but still operational.

Of course, there's many levels of "not working," from something easily (quick and cheap) fixed, to something fatal to the telescope.