I posted here about a visit to the Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope on Mauna Kea as part of the Kama‘āina Observatory Experience being offered by the island’s observatories. The other observatory visited during that tour was the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT).
The JCMT began operation in 1987 and was funded by the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands. However, the United Kingdom decided to improve how it handled its scientific funding and, as a result, early in 2015, the JCMT’s funding efficiently disappeared into deep space and was never seen again. Subesequently, as one of the guides on the tour said, they basically put the telescope on Craigslist and the East Asian Observatory (EAO) picked up the operation.
The telescope is the largest single-dish telescope in the world dedicated to detecting submillimetre radiation. Other telescopes on Mauna Kea operate at different wavelengths so they are complimentary each other rather than in direct competition. And where other telescopes on Mauna Kea are there because of the 300+ nights of clear skies, the JCMT is there for the lack of moisture in the air, which is critical to its operations.
As well as information about the telescope’s operations, the tour included a story about how the steel for telescope’s enclosure had to be sent from England on a small ship after the original freighter broke down. The steel was piled high on deck and was supposed to be headed direct to Hawaii. But the ship’s captain stopped first in Holland to take on a cargo of high explosives! Besides the delay this involved, it also presented problems when the ship arrived at the Panama Canal, for obvious reasons. More delays ensued before the ship disappeared to some port on the Pacific coast to offload the explosives. By the time it arrived in Hawaii, it was so far behind schedule that the penalties accrued for late delivery practically equaled the fee for delivery. However, the ship’s captain, in an apparently canny tactic, waited outside territorial waters and demanded full payment, threatening to dump the steel into the sea if he didn’t get it. This proved to be a bad move! The telescope’s operators took him to court and nailed him for piracy on the high seas. The U.S. Coastguard moved in, took over the ship, and guided it into port of Hilo.
Another story from the telescope’s beginnings concerned the opening ceremony. Several VIPs from the nations operating the telescope turned up, including Prince Philip. When the lever was pulled to start the telescope’s operation, nothing happened. Turned out one of the VIP’s was leaning against an emergency stop button.
For more information on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, go to eaobservatory.org/jcmt/about-jcmt/
For more information on the Kama’āina Observatory Experience, go to kamaainaobservatoryexperience.org/