How Do You Clean an $8 Billion Telescope? With High-Speed Snowballs

When it comes to cleaning an $8.8 billion space telescope designed to see farther into the universe than humans have ever been able to before, you can’t just break out a few Clorox wipes. You can, however, blast it with snow. 

The James Webb Space Telescope, the NASA-born successor to Hubble, is set to launch in 2018 as a collaboration between the American space agency and its counterparts in Europe and Canada. With infrared capabilities and a mirror that will be seven times larger than Hubble’s, NASA touts it as the most powerful telescope ever built, able to see 13.5 billion light-years away. 

Although the telescope is being assembled in a world-class cleanroom at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland—an environment designed to keep particles from landing on the telescope and its instruments—it still might need to be dusted off if it somehow becomes contaminated during testing. 

One of the mirrors for the James Webb Space Telescope arrives at Goddard's cleanroom for assembly.

"Small dust particles or molecules can impact the science that can be done with the Webb," Lee Feinberg, NASA’s optical telescope element manager (read: master of some of the world's most valuable lenses) explains in a press statement. "So cleanliness especially on the mirrors is critical."

To clean the sensitive gold mirror, NASA engineers are developing a method of snow cleaning, which they piloted on a special test version of the mirror (see top image). Engineers shoot a high-speed carbon-dioxide liquid that freezes when it hits the mirror, turning into snow-like flakes. The gentle snowflakes brush aside any contaminants (particles of dust, etc.) that might have settled on the lightweight folding mirror segments without scratching. Bring on the super clean snowball fights! 

[h/t: Smithsonian]

All images courtesy NASA/Chris Gunn

The Long Now Foundation, Vimeo
Jeff Bezos Is Helping to Build a Clock Meant to Keep Time for 10,000 Years
The Long Now Foundation, Vimeo
The Long Now Foundation, Vimeo

Few human inventions are meant to last hundreds of years, much less thousands. But the 10,000 Year Clock is designed to keep accurate time for millennia. First proposed in 1989, the long-lasting timepiece is finally being installed inside a mountain in western Texas, according to CNET.

The organization building the clock, the Long Now Foundation, wanted to create a tribute to thinking about the future. Founded by computer scientist Danny Hillis and Whole Earth Catalog publisher Stewart Brand, the group boasts famous members like musician Brian Eno and numerous Silicon Valley heavyweights. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is putting up the $42 million necessary to complete the project, writing that “it's a special Clock, designed to be a symbol, an icon for long-term thinking."

Measuring 500 feet tall when it's completed, the clock will run on thermal power and synchronize each day at solar noon. Every day, a “chime generator” will come up with a different sequence of rings, never repeating a sequence day to day. On specific anniversaries—one year, 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years, 10,000 years—it will animate a mechanical system within one of five rooms carved into the mountain. On the first anniversary, for instance, the clock will animate an orrery, a model of the solar system. Since they don’t expect to be alive for many of the future anniversaries, the clock’s creators won't determine animations for 100, 1000, or 10,000 years—that'll be left up to future generations. (To give you an idea of just how far away 10,000 years is, in 8000 B.C.E., humans had just started to domesticate cows for the first time.)

Though you can sign up to be notified when the clock is finished, it won’t be easy to see it up close. The nearest airport is several hours’ drive away, and the mountain is 2000 feet above the valley floor. So you may have to be content with seeing it virtually in the video below.

Clock of the Long Now - Installation Begins from The Long Now Foundation on Vimeo.

[h/t CNET]

The North Face
The North Face's New Geodesic Dome Tent Will Protect You in 60 mph Wind
The North Face
The North Face

You can find camping tents designed for easy set-up, large crowds, and sustainability, but when it comes to strength, there’s only so much abuse a foldable structure can take. Now, The North Face is pushing the limits of tent durability with a reimagined design. According to inhabitat, the Geodome 4 relies on its distinctive geodesic shape to survive wind gusts approaching hurricane strength.

Instead of the classic arching tent structure, the Geodome balloons outward like a globe. It owes its unique design to the five main poles and one equator pole that hold it in place. Packed up, the gear weighs just over 24 pounds, making it a practical option for car campers and four-season adventurers. When it’s erected, campers have floor space measuring roughly 7 feet by 7.5 feet, enough to sleep four people, and 6 feet and 9 inches of space from ground to ceiling if they want to stand. Hooks attached to the top create a system for gear storage.

While it works in mild conditions, the tent should really appeal to campers who like to trek through harsher weather. Geodesic domes are formed from interlocking triangles. A triangle’s fixed angles make it one of the strongest shapes in engineering, and when used in domes, triangles lend this strength to the overall structure. In the case of the tent, this means that the dome will maintain its form in winds reaching speeds of 60 mph. Meanwhile, the double-layered, water-resistant exterior keeps campers dry as they wait out the storm.

The Geodome 4 is set to sell for $1635 when it goes on sale in Japan this March. In the meantime, outdoorsy types in the U.S. will just have to wait until the innovative product expands to international markets.

[h/t inhabitat]


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