Monday, March 12, 2007

I read the following article and now I believe all scientists are crazy! Although maybe there's something to be said for the "no such thing as random numbers" school of thought!

To answer big questions with 42
Article from:Herald Sun on August 08, 2006 12:00am

ACCORDING to The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it is the answer to life, the universe and everything. Now, scientists have turned to Douglas Adams's magic number, 42, to help them answer that question for real.Not satisfied with the spectacular views afforded by the Very Large Telescope, at Paranal Observatory in Chile, astronomers plan to build a bigger version, the Extremely Large Telescope, with a mirror 42m in diameter. The project, to be undertaken by the European Southern Observatory, will take about 10 years and cost up to $1.7 billion. The larger the mirror in a telescope, the more light it captures and the more powerful it is. The scientists had hoped to build an Overwhelmingly Large Telescope, with a 100m mirror, but this idea was abandoned as too ambitious. The coincidence between the mirror's diameter and author Adams's answer to life, the universe and everything has delighted astronomers working on the project, as the ELT is designed to shed light on the same questions. Paranal Observatory director Andreas Kaufer said: "That is one of the big questions: where does the universe come from, and where is it going to? The other big one, of course, is: where does life come from?" The VLT, which came into service in 2001, has already taken science closer to the answers. It uses four 8.2m telescopes, which are operated separately or together to simulate a 200m telescope, albeit with less sensitivity than a mirror of that size. In 2004, the VLT captured the first images of a planet beyond our solar system, a gas giant about five times the mass of Jupiter named 2M1207b. The ELT's much bigger mirror will allow it to see further than the VLT, and in greater detail. It should be able to pick up planets closer in size to Earth. Those found to date have been gas giants that could not harbour life. Scientists estimate that a 42m telescope would be powerful enough to search about 100 star systems for Earth-like planets. It should be capable of examining them for signs of life, such as the presence of water and methane. The ELT would also be able to show stars in nearby galaxies, and to look in detail at galaxies more than 13 billion light years away, formed after the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago.


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