Observatory Intruders Caught

There were strange things showing up on the telescopic images at the Smithsonian’s Whipple Observatory in Arizona, but astronomers knew they weren’t UFOs. An unidentified perpetrator had been leaving dusty footprints on the telescope’s mirrors for a year, eventually marring five expensive mirrors. Over the summer, employees at the observatory set out traps and captured ringtail cats on three occasions. The ringtail cat {wiki} is the official state mammal of Arizona. They are related to raccoons. The captured animals were taken some distance away from the observatory and released.
“We’re considering making the ringtail cat the unofficial mascot of the MEarth project,” said project leader David Charbonneau. “With those big eyes, they’ve certainly got the night vision to be natural-born astronomers!”

The observatory now has a webcam, in case anyone wants to watch for more intruders. Link (with video) -via Metafilter

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Ringtails are the coolest critters ever -- one used to live in the rafters of a theater here in Tucson, and when the cork ceiling had to be taken down, it would run around up there totally exposed, swinging its tail so that the theater lights would illuminate it, freaking out the audience. It was eventually trapped and relocated. Also, in the Grand Canyon, they love to steal food from the campers who are on river trips -- my daughter, who was once a chef for a river running outfit, had a tug-of-war with a ringtail over a 5-lb bag of roast beef. Cheeky little thing! (She won.)
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