Scientists can’t resist giving absurd names to even the most serious, expensive instruments. If you think there are some silly telescope names out there, just check out the acronyms researchers are choosing for cameras and imagers.
It takes some selective letter choices to get LUCIFER out of “LBT (Large Binocular Telescope) near-infrared spectroscopic Utility with Camera and Integral Field unit for Extragalactic Research” [capitals ours]. But it’s worth it if we can refer to an instrument that detects near-infrared light as the literal devil. Unfortunately, fun-hating scientists changed the device’s name to LUCI in 2012.
The Dark Ages Z (redshift) Lyman-alpha Explorer looks for a type of emission released by hot hydrogen. Distant galaxies produce this signal as the universe expands and they draw away from us. Looking for galaxies far, far away? Now that goal is…dazzling.
“You know what we need for our DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) satellite, bro?” “A camera?” “A totally epic camera.” — The guys who named the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera, probably. This instrument takes multiple shots of the same view, each with a different color filter, and combines them into a single epic image. You can see EPIC’s first photograph, taken July 6, 2015, above.
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, is a telescope that photographs the sky from a Boeing 747SP aircraft. Its eight instruments include the Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope, nicknamed FORCAST. Researchers can use FORCAST to image dust clouds and star formation—but not to predict the weather, because that would make too much sense.
A trio of alliterative infrared cameras
MONICA (MONtreal Infrared CAmera), MOSAIC (MDM/Ohio State/ALADDIN Infrared Camera) (pictured here), and MIRLIN (Mid-InfraRed Large Imager) all snap images within the infrared light range. Although they are run by different institutions and used for different purposes, they all managed to nab overly-complex acronyms that start with the letter “M.”
Popular Science is looking for the best-named scientific instruments. We’re concentrating on physical devices, rather than algorithms, surveys, systems, or processes—which means amazing names like GANDALF (Gas AND Absorption Line Fitting algorithm) and GADZOOKS! (Gadolinium Antineutrino Detector Zealously Outperforming Old Kamiokande, Super!) won’t make the cut.