Friday, October 12, 2012

Lost In The Astrophysics

Got $1.24 million in your pocket? That’s how much it’ll cost per year to operate a productive, world-class observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. As announced late last month, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) is for sale — a package deal that includes the 12.5-foot (3.8-meter) reflector, its enclosure, and all its instrumentation and support equipment.

This unusual event came about thanks to U.K.’s astronomy funding crisis. In May, the country’s Science and Technology Facilities Council decided to stop supporting two telescopes atop Mauna Kea. The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), which observes submillimeter wavelengths with a 15-meter primary mirror, is scheduled to close in 2014; UKIRT is to be shuttered a year earlier, in September 2013. The two closures make room in the budget for U.K.’s participation in up-and-coming megaprojects, including the ALMA radio array, the Square Kilometer Array, and the 39-meter European Extremely Large Telescope.

After the release of Stacie Orrico and the singles from that album, Orrico decided she did not want to pursue her career in music any further, the Christian pop singer exited the business, returned to her family in Seattle and took a waitressing job at a neighborhood seafood restaurant.

Stacie Orrico
at Wikipedia


“Hey did Stacie Orrico really leave
the music business for a waitress job
working in a Seattle sushi bar?”

“I’ve heard that’s what Wikipedia says.”

“How long did that last? Three days? Maybe four?
You’ve got to think that if there’s anything
that could make the music business look good
it’s going to work and spending all day
waiting on drunken Microsoft hipsters
always grabbing your ass and asking why
the restaurant smells like fish and snickering.”

“That’s pretty much how most of the young girls
describe working in the music business.”


I’m thinking about buying some big glass.

I’d buy the Yerkes observatory
in Wisconsin as my main headquarters
because it was the first facility
designed to do astrophysics research
so it’s got all that history even
if it’s stuck in the middle of nowhere
well Wisconsin under dubious skies.

I’d buy a couple of good dark sky sites
like Mauna Kea and pipe the data
from the big glass where they have good seeing
back to my central campus at Yerkes.

This is a good time. High technology
can shine interesting and wide spectrum light
on the details of an old metaphor—
are solar systems like islands in space?—
and maybe a new astrophysicist
will cut the data into bite-sized bits
and make something like a meal out of them
discovering or crafting together
a metaphor shaped by modernity
as different from the island metaphor
as a music video on a phone
is from a charcoal drawing on paper.


I’d be in it for the laughs even though
I think about astrophysics a lot.

I’d meet a pop star at my helipad—
I’m still seeing Skye Sweetnam in the role—
and show her around my facility
and describe the science we were doing
then I’d ask her to go to my office
but for a minute I would stand alone
when she and the astrophysicists left
and I would look at all the computers
and I would think about all the data
streaming in from all over the planet
and I would think: “They have their agenda
and I have mine and mine’s bigger than theirs.”

Then I’d laugh a good supervillain laugh.

It would start quietly like a chuckle
but build becoming louder going on
for a long time just me laughing alone
until I was done almost exhausted
and for a minute I’d be out of breath.

Then I would make sure I wasn’t smiling
and I’d join Skye Sweetnam in my office.

Or whoever I got for a sidekick.

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