x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Very little imagination

The quest for a suitable name for a radio-telescope array which probes the secrets of the universe demands poets, not scientists.

Contemplating the universe, as astronomers do, might be expected to impart the sense of awe and wonder usually expressed by poets and artists better than by scientists.

Indeed the world's astronomers have been sadly earthbound and prosaic in choosing names for the key tool of their trade, the vast fields of radio-telescopes with which they probe the mysteries of galactic clusters, black holes, and all the rest.

Most of these"arrays" have geographical names or simple labels focused, it appears, on bragging rights: the Very Large Array, the Very Long Baseline Array, the European Extremely Large Telescope, and so on. Are you sensing the competition? There was even a proposal for an Overwhelmingly Large Telescope.

Now the people who run the Very Large Array, in the US state of New Mexico, are holding a contest (namethearray.org) to find a more glamorous, or at least memorable, name for their system, which is being expanded. We wish them wisdom in making a choice. Boasts about the size of one's array are ludicrous against a backdrop the size of the universe. This contest needs poets, not braggarts.