What does North American agriculture have in common with the search for the origin of the universe? It turns out both are powered by John Deere diesel engines. Research into the origin of the universe, however, is taking place in an area most inhospitable to agriculture— in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, at an elevation of 17,000 feet; an area where no measurable rainfall has ever been recorded.
That elevation, and the lack of clouds, explains why researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore chose the site for its CLASS telescopes (Cosmology Large-Angular Scale Surveyor). These 24-foot-tall telescopes will monitor the faint, ancient electromagnetic energy that’s out in space. Analyzing and understanding that energy will provide insights as to how the universe was formed.
The remote desert location is also one reason Blue Star Power Systems chose a pair of John Deere PowerTech™ 6.8L diesel engines to power the site’s electric generators.
“There are no power lines,” says Scott Johnson, sales manager for Blue Star, “so the Johns Hopkins team depends entirely on electricity generated on site. They needed diesel power that was very reliable, easy to service, and could operate in a challenging, low-oxygen environment. With two engines, electricity keeps flowing even when one engine is shut down for scheduled maintenance.”
A long journey
The engines were sourced from Northstar Power, a John Deere distributor in Ankeny, Iowa. From there, they were eventually shipped to Baltimore before being placed in a modified metal shipping container that now houses the engines and generator. The container also provided protection during the boat ride from Baltimore, through the Panama Canal, to Chile, and on the bumpy truck ride up to the 17,000-foot site. The first telescope will be operational later this year, analyzing radiation that has been heading our way the past 13.7 billion years. The research project is scheduled to last for five years.
(Telescope image courtesy of Johns Hopkins.)