Acro-tastic! (with additional GADZOOKS!)Posted: July 16, 2010
I’m in need of some cheering up today, as the fun observations I wanted to make with the Herschel Space Telescope have turned out to be impossible. Luckily, this observation planning also involved a lot of procrastination, which led me to this: the Dumb Or Overly Forced Astronomical Acronyms Site (DOOFAAS). On this site astronomer Glen Petitpas has been gathering together the best of the bizarre, forced, peculiar or just plain geeky astro-acronyms (and they’re all real projects). Perhaps the most famous (i.e. even my mum’s heard of it) of these is OWL – the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope – though this is probably because its lack of imagination is extremely easy for people to mock (and since it follows on from the Very Large Telescope and the Very Large Array, I kind of see their point)!
A bit of googling shows that some astronomers are really committed to their chosen name. For instance, the SAURON (Spectrographic Areal Unit for Research on Optical Nebulae) instrument uses data reduction software called GANDALF and published a paper called “The One Eye that Sees All: Integral Field Spectroscopy with SAURON on the WHT”. Others call themselves things like POLARBEAR (POLARization of the Background millimEter bAckground Radiation) but then don’t even use the animal as their logo. At least the Wavelength Oriented Mircowave Background Analysis Team have an appropriate mascot.
It’s not just projects either – who wouldn’t want to go to a conference called TANGOinPARIS (maybe only people interested in Testing Astroparticle with the New GeV/TeV Observations)? There’s also a disappointing lack of information about whether this is the last of these meetings!
My favorite acronym of the bunch has to be GADZOOKS! – Gadolinium Antineutrino Detector Zealously Outperforming Old Kamiokande, Super! (and the best part is that the exclamation mark is part of it!) Turns out this is actually a pretty interesting project which aims to improve the performance of the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector to a level where it’ll be able to detect faint neutrinos from supernovae from outside our galaxy.
Neutrinos are elementary particles with a very small mass, and a speed generally close to the speed of light. They rarely interact with other particles which makes them very hard to detect – there are trillions of neutrinos from the Sun passing through each of us every second! Super-Kamiokande is essentially a giant underground tank containing 50,000 tonnes of water, surrounding by sensitive cameras (that’s it in the photo above [credit: STFC], with some scientists in what looks to be a rubber dinghy, cleaning the detectors). If a neutrino happens to interact with one of the particles in the tank it produces a flash and the cameras record a detection. At the moment it can only do this for neutrinos that originate within our galaxy; ones from outside are weaker so their flashes are lost in the noise. The GADZOOKS! team think they can improve this by dissolving the metal gadolinium into the water – this will ‘tag’ each extragalactic neutrino interaction and make them easier to distinguish. There’s lots more details on this in their paper and, if (like me) you need it in simpler language, here. It looks like they’re testing the technology now, and aiming to fully implement it in the next couple of years. I really hope they’re successful, not just because of the science, but because it would be a shame to see such a brilliant acronym go to waste!
John F. Beacom, & Mark R. Vagins (2003). GADZOOKS! Antineutrino Spectroscopy with Large Water Cerenkov Detectors Phys.Rev.Lett. 93 (2004) 171101 arXiv: hep-ph/0309300v1