To a Big Telescope Luminary – The Catholic Astronomer

Many years ago I was lucky enough to conduct student research at the Keck Observatories, atop the 14,000 foot peak of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. This is the site of the largest optical telescope in the world. On one of my return flights, coincidentally I found myself sitting next to Professor Jerry Nelson, whose work was largely responsible for existence of this spectacular observatory! I asked many questions which he was willing to entertain without hesitation. If the accomplishments of this person stopped with the design of a big telescope then that would already be commendable. In this case, though, he also managed to overcome an obstacle blocking progress to building big telescopes. The story goes something like this. One can build larger and larger solid telescope structures only up to a certain size. Beyond a diameter of around 5 meters (or about 16 feet), the mirror approaches such a weight that it starts to sag until eventually the the ability … Continue reading →

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