A private tour of the HET, Texas

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

HET, standing for Hobby-Eberly Telescope, a bit north of Ft Davis, a couple days ago, lost in the fog! It was actually the day of "mirror cleaning"… yes, all these years in College and these guys still do windows! (sorry Bob…). I knew as we were approaching that the mirror cleaning was not going to take place as the humidity needs to be 40% or less, we had 99% and more that day. With such weather this is when Spirit is a real trooper. I dare you to find yourself a passenger that would put up with the cold, rain, fog and winds, and even in good weather, the noise. Off road? He must like the bouncing… and somehow has only bailed out once when we crashed in Louisiana! Five feet before we came to a complete stop. How did he know? I don’t know how he does it and truly enjoys it too. Luckily, even though the sidecar’s cover was not designed for us when rolling, it holds up real well cruising at around 60mph, maybe more, we have not tried it.

Spirit had to wait outside as expected, I imagine dog hair within a telescope would not be a very welcome sight by Astronomers, unless maybe blown away and stuck under a lens, mistaken through thousands of times magnification for a new comet of some sort. Bob Calder welcomed us, the whole crew welcomed us actually. Of course I think only Bob would have come out if I would have been alone… you know now how that goes with the "Star"… And yes, you can find all the specs of the HET on the Internet, but for me it was a touch and feel experience. The control center was first. Actually a cup of coffee and a brownie came ahead…

Bob Calder by the way is also a motorcycle rider and has been following us a bit on our Blog through the Adventure Rider Forum. Many of the crew actually are riders, considering the bad weather there were two other bikes parked next to us. 21 computers makes up for all the controls, the desk on the left is for the technicians and the one on the right for the astronomers. Many cameras for the monitors and of course all sorts of information readily available, foreign to me without say.

From there, through the tallest garage door I have ever seen, it was time to check out the telescope itself. Quite a sight when up close and personal compared to when behind a glass partition. The first impression truly is how beautiful it is. I feel that even if it was not a telescope it would still be a display of Art that everyone would like to come and see. Specially the under carriage, even the colors, nice and subdued in harmony with each other.

The explanations where coming to me at a fast pace, at the same time trying to take some pictures and in total "wow" of this machinery that weighs… 80 tons, the mirror in itself weighing at a mere 13 tons! The amazing part was to see the whole telescope rotating 360 degrees in either direction… slow… fast… all due to those rubber bladders underneath the outer carriage, acting as air bags at around 32PSI with actually holes at their bottom to let the air escape, lift the telescope and just like a hovercraft with the help of some motors move it around. 80 tons of it… a 21 million dollar instrument…

The picture on the left is a spare bladder that was on display that day, and soon after looking at it, this is when Bob asked me "what is the most expensive machinery you have ever operated?". I thought about this SL600 V12 Mercedes that I drove a few times for a client of mine so it would not sit in his garage forever… no comparison as I was handed the controls of the telescope. One knob, a bit to the left, a bit more for more speed… 360 degrees later it was back at the starting point. The picture on the right was taken as it was moving at a pretty good speed for 80 tons, considering that it is actually just "floating". You can also see the bladders pumped up about 2 inches thick, all this without a noise.

This is where it got interesting for me, as I we looked at some of the pictures taken by the telescope, the ones posted on the platform wall by the spare bladder. I know the facts, well we all know them. Everything is millions of "light years" away, and we don’t think about it too much in that fashion. But here it was in front of me, a fresh picture taken not too long ago, showing a sky and stars 53 million light years old. And one cannot help wonder about the different theories… I mean, that is a long long time ago, up there, not here, are they still even there? According to Bob, yes. The laws of physics apply to the whole Universe… which way are things going?… those are the theories which no one is quite sure of. Sometimes I have even wonder why we look and built those telescopes to look at "things" that were there so long ago… we for sure cannot say "this is what we see today"… because up there, we have no way to tell "today". I know, it might be a bit naive… just a thought!

And all this is seen because of 91 mirrors as the spare one that you see in the case. They do wear out and need to be recoated at times. 91 mirrors in total harmony, each driven by three motors lining them up when in use every minute and a half at a tolerance of under a sub micron. I don’t know how small sub micron is, but it sounds like a very fine measurement. This whole experience, thoughts, these long distance measurements in light years, they have made me think a lot. They make me think about who we are, what are we really doing here as our own life span is so short comparatively speaking. The prize and purpose alone for being here on Earth should truly be just of happiness, a complete positive experience as we are just grains of sand to the Universe if even that.

I could go on and on about all those thoughts, but I am sure that you do to. It is just that sometimes I see friends with their lives passing by so quick as a flash, as they have not even taken the time to fully breathe what this life of ours has to offer. Suddenly it is too late and the wondering begins as to what happened to all those past years they could have as they say "smelled the roses". The picture on the right shows what we missed. It is the CO2 wand used to foam the mirror on cleaning day. Maybe next time when we pass by again, Bob will open up one more time those doors for me to witness it is all. My mind was so involved listening to all this information from a facet of life so obscure to us, marveled at his profession with telescopes spanning so many years, that when he asked me about my cooking, my own profession… I had to think about it for a few seconds and come back to reality! What is cooking compared to such incredible tasks looking at animated planets, stars… the whole Universe!


This is what was waiting outside on our way back. Spirit was alright with the cover as I was worried about him during the tour, even going out checking on him a couple times. What a great and unique experience, not only for the knowledge acquired, but for all the questions that suddenly have risen…

Don’t forget his "Spirited Doggie Treats" and "Postcards"…. Dogs cannot live of Love and food alone… they need treats, they like treats… we know!

The feedbacks are coming in… this is from real people… with real dogs!!!

* My dogs went crazy over the Spirited Pumpkin Treats!

* Ara, just wanted you to know someone ordered our dogs some of your treats and they loved them.

We are always under deep appreciation toward the readers that have send in a contribution helping this website’s expenditures. For those who have not, continue enjoying the site, pictures, recipes, and if you feel it’s worth $1 a month, the contribution button is above, snail mail is below…

Ara Gureghian   853 Vanderbilt Beach Rd #245   Naples, Fl 34108

Always, be well…    Ara & Spirit

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