Friday, March 24, 2017

Tucson, AZ - Mirrors Into the Past

Our second stop of the day was at the Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona, #1 in astronomical research in the US and one of the premier telescope mirror facilities in the world. We got there at 12:45 and they opened up the door for anyone who needed to go to the bathroom right before the tour. Funny - 10 men and 2 women went. Usually it’s the women who have to wait in line. This time, it was the men.

The hour of classroom explanation and the 3/4 hour of actual tour was fascinating - much more so that we had expected. No one in our group was even an amateur astronomer and our guide’s presentation was such that we could all understand it. Because telescopes and the mirrors that make them work are so expensive, they are a collaborative effort. for example one they built here was financed 10 ways:

        25%                University of Arizona

        25%                Germany

        25%                Italy

        12.5%             Ohio University

        12.5%             6 other universities.

And, each one can use the telescope for the percentage of time that they paid for. Thus, there is no secrecy behind them and we could take any pictures or movies that we wanted in the lab.
Here’s some history: In 1608 the first telescope was invented but it was pretty limited and was only like what a Captain of a ship used to see other ships.

In 1609 Galileo wrote a letter to the Prince of Venice telling him that he could build a telescope that would enable the Prince to see what ships were coming in to shore sooner than anyone else: whether they be trading ships with goods or enemy war ships.
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In 1668 Newton built mirrors for telescopes that became the standard. The top part of the writing in the middle of this slide that our guide showed us is Galileo’s where he is advertising his telescope and on the bottom is when he is discovering that Saturn has 4 moon.
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The bigger the mirror, the better the resolution, the more you can see. And, the University of Arizona, here at this lab are building the world’s biggest telescope incorporating 7 mirrors 8m in diameter, the GMT, or the Giant Magellan Telescope.
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Below is a picture of it showing its size compared to a man standing in front. So far they’ve made about 3 of those 7 mirrors and soon they will set those up for at least a partial telescope. These mirrors will be 8’ in diameter with each one shaped as a parabola. The 7 mirrors combined are also shaped as a huge parabola - considered the best shape for a telescope.
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Here at Arizona, Roger Angel worked to build a bigger and bigger mirror. He began at home using custard cups until his wife told him that hie needed to take his experiments elsewhere. He found an empty Jewish synagogue to use. One of his first projects was for the Vatican. An Angel building a Vatican telescope in a Jewish synagogue. Cool.

After our guide’s presentation we walked out into the lab itself.

How they make these large telescope mirrors is way above my pay grade but - here’s my layman’s explanation of what they’re doing. And, believe me, I am a layman.

An 8m x 2m cylinder of glass/mirror would weigh a lot and be too cumbersome to deal with. They needed to make it much lighter. They begin with a base shown here in the photo. This base needs to withstand the > 2000 degree temps that the mirror will be heated.
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Then they wrap it with steel plates.
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Next they fill this with 6-sided silicon cubes to fill this 8m diameter cylinder.
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Here’s a picture looking down on the honeycomb design with the ceramic cores in place. The molten glass will now flow between them.
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Then they arrange lots of specially designed glass on top in a parabolic shape - thicker on the outside, thinner in the middle.
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Finally, they put the ‘oven’ on top of the whole structure.
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They seal it and then begin to heat it up over 5 days to a peak temperature of 2130° to melt the glass to a consistency of honey so that the glass melts and fills the spaces between the silicon hexagons.
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Meanwhile the whole structure is spinning at a speed of 5 rpm so that centrifugal force and gravity will cause the melted glass to form the correct parabolic shape.

The oven is then cooled to 990° during the next 4 days. Over the next 40 days the whole structure is cooled to 840° and then over the next 66 days it is cooled to room temperature. The ‘oven’ is opened, the structure is put on edge and the silicon hexagons are hosed down and washed out.
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Voila - you’ve got a honeycomb mirror than weighs 80% of what it would weigh if it were total glass.
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Voila, you’ve got a huge piece of glass but, since it is honeycombed, it will not be as heavy as a huge piece of glass. Ha, ha.

Now you need to put a thin sliver of aluminum on it and polish it to a fare-thee-well. Pretty simple, huh? Here’s the polisher which is entirely run by electronics.
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Got that? It’s a pretty spectacular process. Now you know all I know - nah, I don’t want to sell you short. However, even though I might not understand all the physics of the process, I certainly appreciate how intricate it is and what it will enable astronomers to do.

Neither Gary nor I have any experience with astronomy, nor do we own telescopes, but we would certainly recommend the Caris mirror lab to you to see this for yourself. Very cool.

Afterward we walked around the campus to see the original observatory.
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We only saw it by accident since it is pretty well tucked away behind lots of other buildings.
Afterward we walked through the Campus town area and found the 4th Avenue Street Fair which runs this weekend.
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On our way back we found the Baskin Robbins. Perfect ending.

We’ve seen craftsmanship of many different forms today, from old cars lovingly restored to telescope mirrors scientifically engineered to home crafts artistically designed to ice cream exquisitely whipped. Hmmm, maybe I’ve gone too far here.

‘Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.’
                        Anonymous

Tucson, AZ - Franklin Auto Museum

Gary and I are not car people. To us, a car is what gets you around, plain and simple. We want it to be reliable, carry all our stuff, not cost too much and be comfortable. We have a Jeep Liberty: not cool like a Wrangler nor plush like a Grand Cherokee. Middle of the road. A car: reliable, cheaper, comfortable and it carries all our stuff. Now, my brother’s ego is wrapped up in his TRUCK. And, believe you me, if I err and call it a car, I am quickly corrected.

        ‘It’s a TRUCK, Nancy.’

So, a car museum is probably not our first choice. But. . .

Hidden behind walls, off a dirt road in Tucson is a pretty cool museum dedicated to the Franklin Car which was in production from 1902 to 1934. Difficult to find but a real treat to see all the old cars lovingly restored or in their original state. We had another tour scheduled for 1:00 pm and, since this museum opened at 10:00, we figured we had enough time to visit and enjoy. But, first a bit of history. Of course - you expected this didn’t you?
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The H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company built the most successful American direct air-cooled cars from 1902 to 1934. Throughout its history, it was a luxury brand competing with other up-scale cars of its day and sold about 150,000 cars over its 30 years. Its most sophisticated car, the V-12 came into production in 1932 - right when the Great Depression was taking its toll on American wealth. Franklin’s V-12 was just too large and too expensive for the times. However, the Franklin had quite a loyal following and many of these owners preserved these cars long after production ceased. That’s where Thomas H. Hubbard came into the picture.

The Franklin factory was quite large.
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Born January 3, 1925, in Worcester, Massachusetts, he became an engineer but it was restoring old cars where he found his passion. In 1954 he restored his first car, a 1909 Reo - the one on the right. Look at the luggage carrier in back. Classy. And a rag top at that. With a windshield for the rear seat - which was a common accoutrement on luxury cars in the 20’s and 30’s..
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Like this rear seat with its own glove compartments, windshield handlebars for those tight corners and arm rests. However, note that, even though there is a convertible top, it does not touch the car. Still breezy with the top down.
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After this, he became well-known in the classic car circuit for his attention to detail and fine workmanship. He restored several cars for the late William Harrah, founder of Harrah’s casinos and developed a sizable Franklin collection of his own. When he died he left his home, his Franklin automobile collection, a large collection of Native American artifacts given to him by his aunt and a large endowment to be used as a museum in perpetuity.
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Hubbard wanted to preserve “a small but delightful window into our past one that excites the imagination, especially of younger viewers, and helps people understand how things change and how things that may no longer be practical for today’s conditions, yet can be worth preserving for their beauty. Few things do this as well as the automobile.” — Thomas H. Hubbard, April 12, 1992.

And here we are. Our guide was Tom, who has been here for quite a few years. He’s from South Dakota and works here from September when the museum opens to May when it closes for the summer. Ask him anything about Franklins, he knows it. Look how narrow the front windshield is, not much of a line of vision.
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This is the main room of the museum with some of the spectacular cars in it. Look at those huge headlights which, being only 6 amps, didn’t light the way very well. The bumpers are pure steel - better than the plastic bumpers we have today. And, those fancy wheel hubs. The car was luxury down to the finest detail.

Here’s our docent, Tom, who’s describing the car in front of us. When the car came, it was missing the leather that held the spare onto the car. So Tom went to a saddle maker to have some new straps made.
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And, of course, every car ought to have a place for your golf clubs.
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This is a 1931 Sport Phaeton. Those running boards served a dual purpose. They not only gave you a step up to get into the car, they prevented the road dirt and dust and rocks from coming into the car. You’d get pretty muddy if you didn’t have them. Again, note the rear windshield.
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Cute little rumble seat and a steel step to get into it. Kinda breezy I would imagine.
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Gary’s drooling over this little number. Two tone even.
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And, the rear windshield folds down.
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Here you can see the directional blinkers, the windshield wipers and the steering wheel on the right - one made for England.
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The Franklin automobile fell on hard times during the Great Depression of the 1930s, along with many other fine luxury car manufacturers. It’s new car of 1934 was the V-12 series of which only 200 were built. It was longer, taller, heavier, more powerful than previous cars and - more costly. The grill itself is 4” taller than any other car being made. In the Great Depression? Poor timing.
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One car even had seating for 4 in the rear. 2 of the rear seats folded up into the back of the front seats.
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After the automobile was developed, there were many who wanted to take their new ‘toy’ across the country and many chose the Franklin for its reliability and sturdiness. One of them was L.L. Whitman I found some descriptions of the trip including this one.

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Here’s the style that they drove across country in although this is a 4-seater. And, a hamper on the side.
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Here’s how to get into the rear seat.
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Here are L.L. Whitman and his partner Caris in 1904 as they arrived in New York City at the wheel of a Franklin after crossing the US from San Francisco in 33 days.
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Here are Carris and Whitman in their automobile surrounded by other Franklins.
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Driving cross country was considerably different then.
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We also liked the car ads on he walls of the museum.
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And, there it is - the Franklin Auto Museum. Pretty cool and, even for us two non-car people, a fun find in Tucson. Now we’re off for the Mirror Lab.

“The car industry today is taking a different direction. A Lexus is a fancy, extra nicely finished Toyota. In the 10’s and the 20’s, cars were really different. They had their own personalities. They were like people."