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Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambition and the Promise of Technology
by Patrick McCray
Harvard University Press, 2003
Cloth: 978-0-674-01147-2
Library of Congress Classification QB90.M33 2004
Dewey Decimal Classification 522.29


Every night, astronomers use a new generation of giant telescopes at observatories around the world to study phenomena at the forefront of science. By focusing on the history of the Gemini Observatory--twin 8-meter telescopes located on mountain peaks in Hawaii and Chile--Giant Telescopes tells the story behind the planning and construction of modern scientific tools, offering a detailed view of the technological and political transformation of astronomy in the postwar era.

Drawing on interviews with participants and archival documents, W. Patrick McCray describes the ambitions and machinations of prominent astronomers, engineers, funding patrons, and politicians in their effort to construct a modern facility for cutting-edge science--and to establish a model for international cooperation in the coming era of "megascience." His account details the technological, institutional, cultural, and financial challenges that scientists faced while planning and building a new generation of giant telescopes. Besides exploring how and why scientists embraced the promise and potential of new technologies, he considers how these new tools affected what it means to be an astronomer. McCray's book should interest anyone who desires a deeper understanding of the science, technology, and politics behind finding our place in the universe.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Beautiful and Cantankerous Instruments

1. Leo and Jesse's Changing World
2. Tradition and Balance
3. Visions of Grandeur
4. Paper Telescopes
5. Growing Pains
6. Astropolitics
7. Smoke and Mirrors
8. Joining the 8-Meter Club
9. Point-and-Click Astronomy

Conclusion: Telescopes, Postwar Science, and the Next Big Machine

Giant Telescopes

This vivid history of modern telescope building focuses on the turbulence, tension and triumph of building the Gemini 8-meter telescopes. Strong personalities, scientific opportunities, technological advances, and institutional rivalries are sharply etched and skillfully illuminated by McCray's deep reading of the record. As astronomers plunge headfirst into the next round of giant telescope building, this book should be on the required reading list.
--Robert P. Kirshner, author of The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos
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