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  • I'm an astronomer who builds telescopes.

  • I build telescopes because, number one, they are awesome.

  • But number two,

  • I believe if you want to discover a new thing about the universe,

  • you have to look at the universe

  • in a new way.

  • New technologies in astronomy --

  • things like lenses, photographic plates,

  • all the way up to space telescopes --

  • each gave us new ways to see the universe

  • and directly led to a new understanding

  • of our place in it.

  • But those discoveries come with a cost.

  • It took thousands of people and 44 years

  • to get the Hubble Space Telescope from an idea into orbit.

  • It takes time,

  • it takes a tolerance for failure,

  • it takes individual people

  • choosing every day not to give up.

  • I know how hard that choice is because I live it.

  • The reality of my job is that I fail almost all the time and still keep going,

  • because that's how telescopes get built.

  • The telescope I helped build is called

  • the faint intergalactic-medium red-shifted emission balloon,

  • which is a mouthful,

  • so we call it "FIREBall."

  • And don't worry, it is not going to explode at the end of this story.

  • I've been working on FIREBall for more than 10 years

  • and now lead the team of incredible people who built it.

  • FIREBall is designed to observe some of the faintest structures known:

  • huge clouds of hydrogen gas.

  • These clouds are giant.

  • They are even bigger than whatever you're thinking of.

  • They are huge,

  • huge clouds of hydrogen that we think flow into and out of galaxies.

  • I work on FIREBall

  • because what I really want is to take our view of the universe

  • from one with just light from stars

  • to one where we can see and measure every atom that exists.

  • That's all that I want to do.

  • (Laughter)

  • But observing at least some of those atoms

  • is crucial to our understanding of why galaxies look the way they do.

  • I want to know

  • how that hydrogen gas gets into a galaxy and creates a star.

  • My work on FIREBall started in 2008,

  • working not on the telescope but on the light sensor,

  • which is the heart of any telescope.

  • This new sensor was being developed by a team that I joined

  • at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

  • And our goal was to prove that this sensor would work really well

  • to detect that hydrogen gas.

  • In my work on this,

  • I destroyed several very, very, very expensive sensors

  • before realizing that the machine I was using

  • created a plasma that shorted out anything electrical that we put in it.

  • We used a different machine, there were other challenges,

  • and it took years to get it right.

  • But when that first sensor worked,

  • it was glorious.

  • And our sensors are now 10 times better than the previous state of the art

  • and are getting put into all kinds of new telescopes.

  • Our sensors will give us a new way to see the universe and our place in it.

  • So, sensors done,

  • time to build a telescope.

  • And FIREBall is weird as far as telescopes go,

  • because it's not in space, and it's not on the ground.

  • Instead, it hangs on a cable from a giant balloon

  • and observes for one night only

  • from 130,000 feet in the stratosphere,

  • at the very edge of space.

  • This is partly because the edge of space is much cheaper than actual space.

  • (Laughter)

  • So building it, of course, more failures:

  • mirrors that failed,

  • scratched mirrors that had to be remade;

  • cooling system failures,

  • an entire system that had to be remade;

  • calibration failures, we ran tests again and again and again and again;

  • failures when you literally least expect them:

  • we had an adorable but super angry baby falcon that landed

  • on our spectrograph tank one day.

  • (Laughter)

  • Although to be fair, this was the greatest day

  • in the history of this project.

  • (Laughter)

  • I really loved that falcon.

  • But falcon damage fixed, we got it built

  • for an August 2017 launch attempt --

  • and then failed to launch,

  • due to six weeks of continuous rain in the New Mexico desert.

  • (Laughter)

  • Our spirits dampened, we showed up again,

  • August 2018, year 10.

  • And on the morning of September 22nd,

  • we finally got the telescope launched.

  • (Applause)

  • I have put so much of myself -- my whole life -- into this project,

  • and I, like, still can't believe that that happened.

  • And I have this picture that's taken right around sunset on that day

  • of our balloon,

  • FIREBall hanging from it,

  • and the nearly full moon.

  • And I love this picture.

  • God, I love it.

  • But I look at it,

  • and it makes me want to cry,

  • because when fully inflated, these balloons are spherical,

  • and this one isn't.

  • It's shaped like a teardrop.

  • And that's because there is a hole in it.

  • Sometimes balloons fail, too.

  • FIREBall crash-landed in the New Mexico desert,

  • and we didn't get the data that we wanted.

  • And at the end of that day, I thought to myself,

  • "Why am I doing this?"

  • And I've thought a lot about why since that day.

  • And I've realized that all of my work has been full of things

  • that break and fail,

  • that we don't understand and they fail,

  • that we just get wrong the first time,

  • and so they fail.

  • I think about the thousands of people who built Hubble

  • and how many failures they endured.

  • There were countless failures, heartbreaking failures,

  • even when it was in space.

  • And none of those failures were a reason for them to give up.

  • I think about why I love my job.

  • I want to know what is happening in the universe.

  • You all want to know what's happening in the universe, too.

  • I want to know what's going on with that hydrogen.

  • And so I've realized that discovery is mostly a process

  • of finding things that don't work,

  • and failure is inevitable when you're pushing the limits of knowledge.

  • And that's what I want to do.

  • So I'm choosing to keep going.

  • And our team is going to do

  • what everyone who has ever built anything before us has done:

  • we're going to try again,

  • in 2020.

  • And it might feel like a failure today -- and it really does --

  • but it's only going to stay a failure

  • if I give up.

  • Thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

I'm an astronomer who builds telescopes.

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TED】エリカ・ハムデン。望遠鏡を打ち上げるために必要なこと (望遠鏡を打ち上げるために必要なこと|エリカ・ハムデン) (【TED】Erika Hamden: What it takes to launch a telescope (What it takes to launch a telescope | Erika Hamden))

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    林宜悉 に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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