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1997 Fools: ESO AIMS COUPLED OPTICAL TELESCOPES AT THE MOON
Subject: Dead astronomer on moon? From: MNR. F BREUER <email@example.com> Date: 1997/03/31 Message-Id: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Newsgroups: sci.astro GERD HABINGER EUROPEAN SOUTHERN OBSERVATORY HEADQUARTERS MUNICH GERMANY EMAIL: email@example.com JAMES KIRBY MOUNT ST. JOHN OBSERVATORY NEW ZEALAND EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org ANNOUNCEMENT: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, 1 April 1997 ESO AIMS COUPLED OPTICAL TELESCOPES AT THE MOON The European Southern Observatory has succeeded in coupling together three large optical telescopes in Chile and New Zealand and combined their images to achieve a resolution orders of magnitudes higher than ever before. The technique, known as VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) was combined with adaptive optics in all three telescopes, a recent development that involves changing the shape of the primary mirror at a rate of up to 100 times per second, to distort the image in such a way as to compensate completely the distorting effects of the atmosphere. Both these techniques have been used before, with spectacular effects, but this is the first time that they were combined, and also the first time that the telescopes involved were so far apart. The resolution achieved by coupling telescopes together increases with the distance between the telescopes, and the largest distance previously used was a mere 300m, whereas this time two of the telescopes were based at the ESO observatory in Chile and one in New Zealand, a distance of approximately 8000km. Astronomers at ESO said that the result was a staggering resolution that was several orders of magnitude greater than the best previously achieved resolution. The operation was accompanied by immense technical hurdles, as the tracking of all three telescopes had to be made much smoother and more accurate than ever before, especially as long exposures (up to 45 minutes at a time) are necessary to gather enough light to build up a significant image. After working on this project for nearly three years the ESO team, headed by Sigmund Orlander from the ESO headquarters in Munich, Germany, finally achieved their first success on 23 March 1997. The first picture they took was of a region of the Orion Nebula (see ESO press release, 28 March 1997). On 29 March they aimed the telescope at the moon to take pictures of the Apollo 12 landing site, in order to dispel the rumors that the Apollo missions were acted out and filmed in a NASA studio. They indeed got pictures of the Apollo 12 landing site clearly showing the traces of the landing as well as human footprints. However they also found something that has inflamed a fierce controversy: the body of an astronaut, in full NASA spacesuit, with the word "HELP" scrawled in the sand next to it. Jeremy Garfinkle (email: email@example.com), a spokesperson of NASA, has denied that the NASA had left any astronauts behind on the moon and points out that all the astronauts on the Apollo 12 mission had returned safely. "This is utter nonsense," claims Jeremy Garfinkle in a reply fax to ESO, "it is some kind of European attempt to discredit the NASA. This is a striking example of jealousy and bad science". Mr. Garfinkle further threatened the ESO with legal action if the pictures of the Apollo 12 landing site are released to the public, describing them as "fabrications". Some members of the ESO believe, however, that the Apollo 12 crew may have left an empty spacesuit and the message on the moon as a practical joke. Mr. Garfinkle also denied this possibility. "The NASA astronauts are highly disciplined and would not play such childish pranks. Besides, we would have noticed if a space suit had gone missing." The ESO and NASA have agreed, however, to investigate the matter further and will take more pictures of the Apollo 12 landing site shortly. Rumors that the incriminating pictures have been leaked to the WWW are as yet unsubstantiated. More press releases, by NASA and the ESO are expected within the next few days.