Press Release

French Advances in Science and Technology excerpts: Science in the Pyrenees

By SpaceRef Editor
July 1, 2001
Filed under , ,

FAST is a free review of mainstream French press on issues of science and technology. It appears twice weekly.

FAST is published by the Science and Technology Office of the Embassy of France to the United States, and by its CNRS Washington office.

Paris – July 10, 2001 – Issue #272

PYRENEES. Something about this mountain chain seems to inspire the idea of
using tourism proceeds to pay for scientific research. First the Pic du Midi
Observatory (FAST #260), a small telescope but prized by planetologists,
which remains in existence thanks to a recent program of opening the site to
the public, and now Themis, the abandoned solar energy plant taken over by
astronomers for use as a gamma ray telescope. Tourism to this unique site, a
mountainside covered in huge mirrors built at the height of the oil shock
but abandoned when its electricity turned out to be 20 times more expensive
than conventionally-produced power, is now being encouraged and if
successful will enable scientists to stay on here. CNRS researchers use the
enormous combined reflective surface for far less than a millisecond per
day, training the mirrors on specific heavenly bodies or events and
collecting the brief flash observable by the mirrors at sundown caused by
gamma rays from the target as they collide with earth’s atmosphere. In this
way gamma rays, unparalleled witnesses of the violence of the universe but
impossible to capture on earth, can be indirectly observed. Themis
accomplishments include recording the last gasps of dying stars and
observing activity at the center of galaxies. ( Agence France Presse, July

SpaceRef staff editor.