Houston, We Have a Problem

Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Brilliant people have spent years of their lives working on cutting-edge technology, and unforeseen consequences can mean much more time spent on these experiments.

Simon’s worried face was the first thing I saw when I walked into the lab today. He was staring at the cryostat, a large, green canister, which was emitting a rhythmical squeaking noise as the pumps strained to cool down the inner lenses.

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“It’s running 100 milliKelvin above where it should be right now. We’ve had it cooling for much longer than expected, and this is worrisome.”

0.1 Kelvin above where the temperature should be, within fractions of absolute zero, doesn’t seem like much of a big deal. For this project, however, it is devastating. The whole project depends on the temperature being constant and in a certain range. Without the correct temperature, the measure of heat using changes in resistance falls apart, as does the superconducting nature of the wires. Without the correct temperature, bright, energetic events in the universe would not even register.

Sara and Simon sat by the computer, looking at complicated, squiggly graphs and deciphering their secret meanings, gaining data from them when all I saw was a strange figure reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting. They plugged numbers into a code and the computer chugged out countless graphs. Trying to pinpoint the exact correct ways to make the cryostat function was proving to be very difficult. Hopefully, there is nothing wrong inside the cryostat itself, which would mean a few more days of work opening it back up, fixing it, closing it again, and cooling it down. As Simon and Sara work hard to fix the problem, I will be working on a balloon-borne telescope project tomorrow called BLAST — interesting stories to come on that!

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