HETDEX is gonna get a VIRUS and that's not something you want to hear over lunch. But with an expert at the table to calm our potentially troubled stomachs, a group of seven science writers at the Annual meeting of the National Association of Science Writers and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing learned a lot about a project to explore the slightly less stomach turning topic of dark energy.
Karl Gebhardt of the University of Texas at Austin brought us up to speed on the development of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment, or HETDEX. It's an interesting project that is looking to understand dark energy in a slightly different way to how the majority of dark energy telescopes approach the problem. It differs because it looks further back in time, by observing fainter astronomical objects, further away from us. It's a challenging experiment, because dark energy plays its most significant role in the universe's evolution relatively recently, but looking further back in time allow HETDEX to answer a few different kinds of questions about dark energy.
And the VIRUS? Well, that's the Visible Integral-field Replicable Unit Spectrograph. It consists of over 100 identical small units that each captures light in an array of optical fibers. By building the detector as a set of repeating units, the researchers can save considerable money (up to 75% by the scientists' estimates) and still get the performance they need. The savings come because a single unit can be prototyped, tested, and fully developed, and then economies of scale mean that unit can be replicated relatively cheaply. As Karl said at the lunch, after a certain number are produced, the rest come essentially free.
One of the lunchers was Robert Irion, director of the science writing program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and past long-time journalist for Science magazine. Rob was having fun with the often-extreme acronyms that astronomers create for their projects with some light-hearted teasing about HETDEX's VIRUS, and proposed that what we really need was GROG. Yes, you already knew that was a General Relativistic Overturn of Gravity, didn't you?
But to illuminate his point about "astronyms", Rob later sent the lunch attendees a piece he had written for Science about five years ago but which never quite, he observed, saw the light of publication, due to a lack of space. (Yep, I'm trying to see how many subtle puns on optical astronomy I can slip into one sentence.)
So read the text below and if you feel like it is tinged just slightly red, that's because it's coming from the past...
Reporters at the recent American Astronomical Society meeting in Atlanta needed SMARTS to interpret the witty acronyms invented by astronomers for their pet projects. A FIRST look at the abstract volume turned up some DIRT and some real GEMS, so one writer went on a QUEST for the best--or worst--creations.
The DEEP search exposed some clever IDEAS, from trees (ASPENS) to desert (MOJAVE), and from ocean (SCUBA) to movie EPICs (SAURON). Some scientists couldn't quite spell (KASCADE), making one wonder whether they were on LSD. (At the very least, they were all WET.)
The ARCADE-like poster room was a veritable hall of BEASTs. One could GLIMPSE CANGAROOs, EGRETs, FLAMINGOS, GNATs, and even OGLE a fine BASS. A few astronomers, burdened by strained acronyms, stood at their posters with MACHO GLAREs. Others smiled to some internal MUSYC, confident in the DESTINY of their proposals.
When it came down to the WIRE, the writer blew a FUSE trying to pick the one acronym that really SINGS. For a COMPLETE list, SEGUE to this web page*. If that's too much to ask, don't shoot the MESSENGER.
* Editor's note: This link doesn't exist as the piece was never published, but it would have linked to the text below.
SMARTS: Small and Moderate Aperture Research Telescope System
FIRST: Faint Images of the Radio Sky at Twenty centimeters
DIRT: Dust InfraRed Toolbox
GEMS: Galaxy Evolution from Morphology and Spectral energy distributions
QUEST: QUasar Equatorial Survey Team
DEEP: Deep Extragalactic Evolutionary Probe
IDEAS: Initiative to Develop Education through Astronomy and Space science
ASPENS: Astrometric Search for Planets Encircling Nearby Stars
MOJAVE: Monitoring Of Jets in AGN with VLBA Experiments
SCUBA: Submillimeter Common User Bolometer Array
EPIC: European Photon Imaging Cameras
SAURON: Spectroscopic Areal Unit for Research on Optical Nebulae
KASCADE: KArlsruhe Shower Core and Array DEtector
LSD: Lenses Structure and Dynamics
WET: Whole Earth Telescope
ARCADE: Absolute Radiometer for Cosmic And Diffuse Emission
BEAST: Background Emission Anisotropy Scanning Telescope
GLIMPSE: Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire
CANGAROO: Collaboration of Australia and Nippon for a GAmma Ray Observatory in the Outback
EGRET: Energetic Gamma Ray Experiment Telescope
FLAMINGOS: FLoridA Multi-object Imaging Near-infrared Grism Observational Spectrometer
GNAT: Global Network of Astronomical Telescopes
OGLE: Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment
BASS: Broadband Array Spectrograph System
MACHO: MAssive Compact Halo Object
GLARE: Gemini Lyman-Alpha at Reionization Era
MUSYC: MUltiwavelength Survey by Yale and Chile
DESTINY: Dark Energy Space Telescope (hey, what about INY?)
WIRE: Wide-field InfraRed Explorer
FUSE: Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer
SINGS: SIRTF (now Spitzer) Infrared Nearby Galaxies Survey
COMPLETE: COordinated Molecular Probe Line Extinction Thermal Emission survey
SEGUE: Sloan Extension for Galactic Underpinnings and Evolution
MESSENGER: MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging mission
Of course, I wouldn't want to give the astronomers and astrophysicists too hard a time over their naming. Particle physicists are just as bad. Travel nearly five years back in time with symmetry magazine to read a feature about the woeful naming of projects in particle physics.
Thanks to Rob Irion for sharing this piece with us.