Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

I came across this while looking for something else, as happens so often on the Internet.

The European Extremely Large Telescope is being built right now in Chile, up where the air is clear and thin. First light should be in a little less than a decade.

Now scroll down about halfway. Off to the right is a diagram of “Comparison of nominal sizes.” Click on that, and then click on it again until it fills your screen.

A few years back we were able to visit Mount Palomar and see the 200-inch Hale reflecting telescope in all its glory. I had seen pictures of it all my life, but they had not prepared me for the sheer SIZE of the thing. It just dwarfed and awed me, and it remains a miracle of engineering. The Russians built a larger single-mirror telescope in 1975, but it has never worked very well. All the other super-large telescopes use segmented optics and adaptive optics, which eliminates the need for casting one huge piece of glass.

Now look at that diagram. In the upper left-hand corner is the Hale 200-inch, looking pretty small. Way over to the right is the EELT. As you can see, if you laid it flat you could play a basketball game on the mirror. The SECONDARY mirror is almost as large as the Hale.

But that’s not all.

The long arc at the bottom of the diagram is what the Arecibo radio telescope would look like compared to the optical scopes. Radio telescopes are a lot easier, made out of steel and not to the tolerances of opticals. And the Arecibo is not steerable, being built into a natural dish in the Puerto Rican landscape.

Then there is the ghostly circle that encompasses all the other telescopes. It’s ghostly because the project was cancelled, and it’s a damn shame, too. The EELT is going to be amazing, but this ghost scope would have dwarfed it. And the proposed name?

The Overwhelmingly Large Telescope.

Who said scientists don’t have a sense of humor? If you click twice on the picture of the OWL, you can see that the little speck in the foreground is a pickup truck.

So I was wondering … if they ever decided to build a telescope bigger than the OWL, what would you call it? The best I have come up with is this:

Supercalifragilisticexpialidociously Humongous Incomparable Telescope. The SHIT.

March 15, 2015
Vancouver, WA