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Cryogenic Truck Services Remote Telescopes

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the telescope-repair-option dept.

Space 38

coondoggie writes "Moving a 115-ton telescope down a mountain and 40 miles on the back of a humongous truck to a servicing facility is no task for the timid. It's a job the caretakers of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, no longer have to worry about thanks to a new custom designed truck that can transport and service ALMA's temperature-sensitive astronomical equipment without removing a telescope from the working array at 16,500 feet in the Chilean mountains."

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38 comments

All is good and well but... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37304444)

Watch out for rogue James Camerons! They might write in a nasty accident.

Re:All is good and well but... (2)

wwphx (225607) | more than 2 years ago | (#37309886)

I think Michael Bay would be a bigger threat.

My wife works at a 3.5 meter telescope. Whenever the mirror (around 3 tons) is lifted out of the mirror cell (the telescope base), her boss, the guy pretty much in charge of the telescope, stands beneath it. His rationale: if the mirror drops, he doesn't want to live to see it.

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37304484)

I, for one, welcome our new mountain-climbing overlords.

And by 'services' do you mean (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37304550)

breeds? Fucks relentlessly? Uppy-downy?

Re:And by 'services' do you mean (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37304770)

Was that supposed to be funny to anyone else than yourself?

More on ALMA (5, Informative)

Dusty101 (765661) | more than 2 years ago | (#37304596)

For anyone who wants to know more about the ALMA project as a whole, here's the project's main page:

http://www.almaobservatory.org/ [almaobservatory.org]

(Disclaimer: I work for the project as a staff astronomer).

Re:More on ALMA (1)

zill (1690130) | more than 2 years ago | (#37304680)

Did you choose your /. username before or after you joined the project?

Re:More on ALMA (1)

Dusty101 (765661) | more than 2 years ago | (#37304698)

Good point...

Actually, before: I work on interstellar dust (& gas).

I suppose if it had been after, I'd have gone for "Dusty66": the final number of ALMA antennas...

Re:More on ALMA (2)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 2 years ago | (#37306740)

If only it had been 666 telescopes. Pentagrams are a good shape for triangulation, right?

Re:More on ALMA (1)

wolvesofthenight (991664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37304704)

Judging from his UID, probably before. There have been people on the project that long, but not many. Though it is fitting enough to make me wonder.

Re:More on ALMA (1)

Chris6502 (857915) | more than 2 years ago | (#37305634)

Older and newer UIDs are involved in the project as well :)

Re:More on ALMA (1)

wolvesofthenight (991664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311588)

Yes - I imagine that NRAO / ESO / NAOJ / ALMA employes represent a full range of /. UIDs. But the question was asking if his username was selected due to his work on the project. I was suggesting that since it is an old UID the odds are that he got it before the project coated him with dust (yea, he could have changed username, but that is rare). Regardless, he answered the question.

More info not linked from the article (4, Informative)

ALecs (118703) | more than 2 years ago | (#37304606)

Disclaimer: I work for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory [nrao.edu] (the US partner for ALMA).

There's lots more info on the transporters available on the ALMA web site. The two antenna transporters, named "Otto" and "Lore", have their own page at http://almaobservatory.org/en/technology/transporters. [almaobservatory.org] Each transporter actually has 2 500kW power plants (for redundancy) and cooling them at 5km altitude is a major challenge (actually, the datacenter has the same problem -- there's just not enough air up there to remove the heat).

There's lots more pictures of them carrying antennas [almaobservatory.org] there, too.

Finally, a video of the transporter taking the first ALMA antenna to the high site [almaobservatory.org] .

Re:More info not linked from the article (4, Interesting)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37304654)

ALMA is just insanely awesome. Electrical engineers are a dime a dozen, and there are a reasonable number of good RF/microwave people among them. Among them are the gurus who've made themselves household names in the industry. A few of those people are actually as smart, creative, and well-informed as they think they are.

Then there are the guys who distribute phase-coherent millimeter wave LOs for hundreds of meters over fiber optics, and when they can't buy a mixer at Mini-Circuits that does what they want, they grow one from a freakin' crystal. Those guys all seem to end up at NRAO, even though there's no money in radio astronomy and even less glory.

Respect to the NRAO folks for not only doing some of the most hardcore RF work on the planet and elsewhere, but maintaining open, paywall-free distribution of their R&D papers. This shouldn't be taken for granted nowadays. If you're an EE, you can (and should) lose a whole weekend just reading the ALMA papers.

Re:More info not linked from the article (5, Insightful)

ALecs (118703) | more than 2 years ago | (#37304712)

Then there are the guys who distribute phase-coherent millimeter wave LOs for hundreds of meters over fiber optics, and when they can't buy a mixer at Mini-Circuits that does what they want, they grow one from a freakin' crystal. Those guys all seem to end up at NRAO, even though there's no money in radio astronomy and even less glory.

Probably because it's the kind of environment that values damn-good research above all else, be it in RF, astrophysics, astrochemistry or even in IT (where I work). I've gone from job-hopping every 3-18 months at my previous employers to staying at NRAO for 6 years now. And every year at the annual service awards presentation they give out 30 or even 40-year service awards. Sure, there's no money in astronomy and our budget is projected flat for the next what... 5 years or something, but even with that people like it here and stick around.

Proof (IMO) that you can develop and sustain a great R&D culture on a limited budget!

Re:More info not linked from the article (1)

wolvesofthenight (991664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311652)

One of the reasons people stay at NRAO is the work environment. No secrecy. Very minimal hassle with security. No dress code (except for PPE). Flexible hours. A relatively small amount of bureaucracy. Most supervisors respect their subordinates. Cool projects to work on. And 2 days of vacation per month (at least for the engineers). I am not saying that it is perfect - and there are exceptions to the above. But it is much better than many other work environments.

Re:More info not linked from the article (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 2 years ago | (#37304794)

the meter of awesome on a subject goes like

had somebody read the "dummies" book to you
read the dummies book
wrote the dummies book
had somebody read the "Bible" to you
read the "Bible"
Wrote the "Bible"
is the God of the subject (earliest Authority on the subject and still considered "current")

i would bet that most of these folks rate in the last two brackets

Re:More info not linked from the article (1)

Chris6502 (857915) | more than 2 years ago | (#37305644)

Thanks :) I should state I am NOT one of the gurus but I do know some of them.

Re:More info not linked from the article (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37305234)

a bunch of neat transporter stills [eso.org] (and some copy)

Re:More info not linked from the article (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 2 years ago | (#37341990)

Those are some sweet trucks, but out of curiosity, how the hell to they lift the antenna? Is it the ramps on the back?
I can't see those things on the sides being able to list 115 tons, but pretty sweet.

Re:More info not linked from the article (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 2 years ago | (#37306754)

There was much good footage of ALMA and it's transporters in action on a recent BBC Horizon (as well as lots of good footage of some of your colleagues suffering through low-oxygen, subzero temperature conditions).

It'll be on iPlayer if you've got access (probably on YouTube if not).

Re:More info not linked from the article (-1, Troll)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 2 years ago | (#37307420)

I wouldn't tell anyone where you work. I certainly wouldn't brag about it.

Its not impressive that someone had to figure out that it was easier to truck supplies and service equipment up the mountain rather than move 115 ton device down the mountain.

And for the record, LOTS of equipment and people do just fine at 5k meters after a slight amount of adjustment. There are cities higher up than that. You can cool a truck ... but not a generator ... You do understand they work the same, right?

For people who are supposed to be smart, you guys are pretty dumb.

See? This is how you write a headline (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37304644)

"Moving a 115-ton telescope down a mountain and 40 miles on the back of a humongous truck to a servicing facility is no task for the timid."

Now suppose you don't know what a ton is, what a mountain is, or a truck. How are you supposed to know if it's a task for the timid or not?

Don't worry... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37304920)

most people make a full recovery from a hard hit to the head.

--

Re:See? This is how you write a headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37308526)

If you don't know what a ton, a mountain or truck is, people around you would be happy if you can manage toilet/hygiene stuff or even breathing on your own.

Misleading summary (5, Informative)

wolvesofthenight (991664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37304674)

Despite what the summary says, we will still have to take antennas down the mountain to service them. We just won't have to take them down specifically to service the receiver.

For those of you wondering: Alma has 2 major work sites. The Array Operations Site (AOS) at 5000 meters elevation. This is a great spot for scientific observations, but also harsh work environment. So there is also an Operations Support Facility (OSF) at 3000m where the antennas are assembled and tested. The antenna transporters, of which are far more impressive than the Front End Service Vehicle, easily move the antennas to the high site. They will also move them around at the high site, much like the different configurations of the VLA (well, now the EVLA).

Actually, moving those antennas gets boring fast - and we want to keep it that way (yes, I am currently working there). The transporter goes at a few KPH - around a fast walk. Or 1st gear, if you insist on car analogies. Moving them around is only a big deal because of the cost in time, manpower, and down time of the antenna. It is about a 1/2 day trip to take an antenna 1-way, so the time adds up fast.

You can find more on the project at our webpage here: http://www.almaobservatory.org/ [almaobservatory.org]

hoping it will all be explained (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#37306094)

in the lego kit.

a few KPH (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310130)

A few Kelvin Pascal Henries, eh? Should we be impressed?

"good job kids" -Darwin (1)

Web Goddess (133348) | more than 2 years ago | (#37304766)

Transporting a telescope that big is a Darwin Award waiting to happen, so this means: No longer a winning incident in the making. "good job kids" - Charles R. Darwin

see what the free market can do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37304866)

Anything! All it needs is for government to get out of the way!

ALMA in space? (1)

aekafan (1690920) | more than 2 years ago | (#37305736)

That would still be better than F.E.A.R. 3

Will we get haunting images from this telescope?

Here's a question... (0)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 2 years ago | (#37306186)

Why the fuck didn't they build the "Servicing Facility" on site. God Damned PhD's can't fucking do anything right.

Re:Here's a question... (3, Informative)

dierdorf (37660) | more than 2 years ago | (#37306324)

Well, mainly because human beings cannot survive at 5000m without oxygen masks, while 3000m is bearable. The residence halls, laboratories, control rooms, and servicing facilities are at the lower altitude. Even at Mauna Kea (4100m), the telescope control rooms are further down the mountain where out-of-shape astronomers and technicians are less likely to drop dead.

They didn't mention in the article that, in the interest of keeping the drivers alive, those trucks (Transporter and servicer) have pressurized cabins just like an airplane.

Re:Here's a question... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37306798)

This is wrong, human beings can survive just fine at 5000m. I have been at the high site as a visitor, and nobody working there sports an oxygen mask (although oxygen bottles are available in the minivans should the need arise). All you need is a quick test, then you are good to go.

Re:Here's a question... (2)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#37307000)

Well, mainly because human beings cannot survive at 5000m without oxygen masks, while 3000m is bearable.

Dude, people have climbed mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. The highest city in the world is at 5100 meters [wikipedia.org] with 30,000 inhabitants with individuals living much, much higher.

Wrong about Mauna Kea :) (2)

Shag (3737) | more than 2 years ago | (#37307104)

Even at Mauna Kea (4100m), the telescope control rooms are further down the mountain where out-of-shape astronomers and technicians are less likely to drop dead.

All the summit observatories on Mauna Kea (4100-4200m) were built with summit control rooms.

A few of the smaller, older ones have implemented remote operations from their offices in Hilo or Waimea, and most have some remote observation capabilities, but seven or eight of the eleven on the summit have operators on the summit every night they're in use, and summit observations are still common at most of those as well.

The thing further down the mountainside is dining hall, dormitories, etc. We don't operate or observe from there.

(I operate the Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea, 4140m up.)

Re:Here's a question... (1)

Dusty101 (765661) | more than 2 years ago | (#37309974)

As others have noted, we can (& do) work at the ALMA high site (AOS) and on the top of Mauna Kea (my last job). However, your point is well made: the 5000m Chajnantor plain is pretty inhospitable for extended periods of time (thin air, extremely dry), hence there are limits on the lengths of high-altitude work shifts.

Also, the thin air at 5000m affects reasoning & judgment, which can be an issue given the size & complexity of the machines. Even on Mauna Kea, I've seen clever people really struggle sometimes to decide whether they needed to add those two numbers or subtract them. Dehydration's also an issue, giving rise to headaches, etc. And there are some people who really just can't physically cope with the altitude - they get sick, dizzy, etc. Folk get driven down at the first signs of serious altitude sickness.

And they're going to build CCAT 600m higher than ALMA: http://www.submm.org/overview.html [submm.org]

Is the truck named... (1)

cellocgw (617879) | more than 2 years ago | (#37308592)

Mr. Frostee ?

If so, watch your brain carefully.

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