Shooting a Telescope Mirror

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Tue, Jun 26 - 12:25 pm EDT | 8 years ago by
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Photo Credit: Bill Keel

Well I’ll be dipped in mercury, it WAS true.

AstroGeek posted a comment on my last post with this link from Bill Keel showing the bullet holes in the primary of the 107-inch Harlan J. Smith telescope. It wasn’t an astronomer that did it though, it was a new employee who had a breakdown (MacDonald Observatory must’ve been a stressful place to work back then).

Apparently, it was important to distinguish that he was from Ohio:

Firearms are very common in Texas. Astronomer Brian Warner had his tongue only slightly in cheek when he remarked that “Jeff Davis County is about the size of Israel – and slightly better armed.” The prophecy inherent in the aphorism came to pass. The full precipitating causes may never be known, but one February night in 1970 a McDonald Observatory employee (not a Texan, but an Ohioan newly hired from another observatory!) suffered a breakdown and carried a pistol to the observing floor of the 107-inch telescope. He fired a shot at his supervisor, and then unloaded the rest of the clip into the primary mirror. Happily, fused silica is more resilent than ordinary glass, and the big mirror did not break. The craters have been bored out and painted black to reduce any light-scattering effect, and the end result is simply a slight reduction in the efficiency of the telescope. It is now the equivalent of a 106-inch telescope. The incident made the national television news, with Walter Cronkite describing it before a projection showing the wrong telescope upside down.

I like the part about ‘not a Texan’. Oh no, Texans don’t do that, please don’t blame this on Texas. Ohioans, THEY’RE the problem, don’t let Ohioans have handguns, they’ll shoot anything in sight.

Anyway, the picture above is really cool. I’ve circled the bullet holes in the lower right of the picture.

[I hope you appreciated the fact that I stayed away from all 'going postal' references. I really, really wanted to go there, but I refrained.]

Thanks AstroGeek!

Technorati Tags: macdonald observatory, shooting telescopes, telescopes

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