Telescope-building scentist Scott Acton cycles into Christchurch on world tour

Dr Scott Acton with his bike in Christchurch.
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

Dr Scott Acton with his bike in Christchurch.

A visiting American scientist who helped build the next-generation telescope to see deep space has spent the best part of a year seeing the world by bike.

Dr Scott Acton worked on the James Webb Telescope, which is scheduled for launch at the end of next year, and has been promoting the telescope on his world tour. He stopped in Christchurch on the weekend.

The upgrade from the Hubble Telescope will fit inside a rocket to be transported 1.6 million kilometres from Earth. It will open out to provide new insights into the universe as it boasts a telescope 100 times more powerful than its predecessor.

Acton worked on the new, super-powerful James Webb Space Telescope.
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

Acton worked on the new, super-powerful James Webb Space Telescope.

"We'll be able to see some of the first light that shined in our universe," Acton said.

With his part in the project in a holding pattern, Acton decided to go on an adventure to see the world and promote the telescope that will reveal things no man has ever seen before.

Six weeks before he was supposed to embark on his adventure early last year he had a quadruple heart bypass.

"I had a little bit of pain in my chest and it turned out I was days from death. I went to the doctor and never left the table. I had to have surgery that day.

"My daughter was getting married in three days and I asked if they could wait and they told me 'Sure, that way all your family will be in town for your funeral'."

After "dodging that bullet" he hit the road and it has been 10 months since he left Boulder, Colorado.

He has cycled from North America to Europe and then across America before coming "own under" in December.

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It was an interesting trek across the Southern Alps in last week's extreme weather, but after a train ride from Greymouth to Arthur's Pass he had the "road to himself" due to the pass being shut.

With the promise of a couple of beers, Acton agreed to give his presentation to Christchurch's Skeptics In The Pub at the Pegasus Arms on Sunday night.

"The sceptics are all a load of geeks," event organiser Jane Pearce said.

"It is all pretty informal. We just meet up in pubs and talk."

Pearce said the sceptics movement was born out of intellectuals meeting to rebut the "quack theories, ludicrous claims and conspiracy theories that emerge in society".

As well as the intellectual discussions and weekly quizzes, the group often host guest speakers and Acton said he could not turn down an opportunity to present at a pub.

"It sounded like a good deal," he said.

 - Stuff

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