Archive for the ‘other news’ Category

And now for a gratuitous plug for….

May 8, 2010

my own personal (and newly transferred to) WordPress blog. Some Herschel related items, of course, but with more of an overall view of professional astronomy and the world beyond, when it rears its ugly head.

Feel free to pop over to Playing With Dust!


Other News…

April 16, 2010

Next Thursday will be an interesting new experience for me – I’ll be signing copies of the Conflicts anthology at London’s premier specialist SF bookshop, Forbidden Planet. This isn’t exactly a Herschel event, but if people coming along want to chat about the satellite and how the mission is going then please come along! There’ll be some very good books on sale as well!

Herschel @ NAM

April 12, 2010

Today is the first day of the UK National Astronomy Meeting (known as NAM). You can find out more about it here, and can follow various developments on the twitter hashtag #nam2010

We have a Herschel session tomorrow, for which I’m the organizer. There won’t be a lot new beyond what was shown at Madrid as we are under embargo from ESA who want to show all the new and exciting results at the ESLAB Herschel meeting in May. But we should have some interesting things for you nevertheless.

For more general news on UK astronomy keep watching the news as there are usually a flurry of press releases around NAM. Hopefully we can push aside some of the election coverage and get some science out!

So here it is… Physics Doomsday

December 16, 2009

2pm GMT is when STFC will announce its prioritised programme in astrophysics, particle and nuclear physics. What this effectively means, since they need to find ~£70M in cuts, is that this will be a cut list. By then end of today there will be far fewer projects in these fields, and probably far fewer people with jobs in them.

STFC is calling this exercise ‘Investing in the Future’ because they have to keep their political masters happy and because the people in charge haven’t got the backbone to admit the whole thing is cocked up. Keith Mason, the Chief Executive and an ex-X-ray astronomer (I can’t see any university department wanting to have him back), especially has been wholly craven in his stance on these cuts, going so far as to say this tis is good for the affected fields. I know the first job at STFC that I’d cut.

There is more discussion of today’s devastation in blogs and newspapers.

It is especially ironic that this is all happening on the same day that Herschel will announce its first full scientific results. Herschel has been an astounding success for UK science, both because the UK is the world leader in far-IR/submm astronomy, but also because we’ve led the construction of the SPIRE instrument which is performing superbly. But it is far from certain that the UK Herschel programme is going to survive today.

Those of you with twitter accounts might like to express your opinions on this issue, using the hashtag #stfc and with tweets directed at the science minister @lorddrayson

WISE has launched!

December 14, 2009

WISE – the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, a mission to perform an all sky survey from 3.5 to 23 microns – has successfully launched and separated from the launch vehicle. Having gone through this stressful experience for the Herschel and Planck launch in May I know how good the WISE team must be feeling at this point!

For more information about WISE and the science it will produce, see the team webpages and for a movie of the launch and other details see the NASA WISE pages.

Congratulations to the WISE team! The real work starts now!

SPICA: The Next Step

December 2, 2009

While data has only just started to flow from Herschel, since these space missions take more than a decade to build, we’re already working on the next steps. These are all being done in the context of the ESA ‘Cosmic Visions’ programme.

There was an important meeting yesterday in Paris where the six remaining candidates had their chance in the spotlight.

The Herschel successor mission, SPICA, seems to be doing rather well, as it is the only one of the six missions whose budget is well within the limits.

A report on the meeting is available at BBC News Online.

Publishing News

November 27, 2009

One of my other guises, apart from astrophysicist and blog editor, is as a starving science fiction writer. I’ve only just started to sell stories commercially, but I reached a big step this week with my first ever story to be published in one of the major US magazines coming out in Analog Magazine – I’m not on the cover (not famous enough yet) but I am inside the magazine.

If you want to see what this astrophysicist thinks about during a seminar on neutron stars go out and buy a copy!

Meanwhile, I have another story still available in the Footprints anthology. This one could be described as a cosmologists take on the moon landings.

Tim Hawarden RIP

November 21, 2009

It is with great sadness that I’ve learnt of the death of Tim Hawarden. He can be fairly described as one of the godfathers of Herschel thanks to his development of the concept of radiative cooling for space-based infrared telescopes.

As well as being a brilliant astronomer at whichever wavelength he was working in, he was also a truly nice human being. For example, on trips down from Mauna Kea, he’d stop the car and make sure visiting astronomers got to see some of the amazing flora and fauna of the Big Island. I can well remember being astounded when he first showed me the flowers of wild ginger on one such trip.

He’ll be missed.

You can read his obituary at the ROE website, or read some more personal recollections at Andy Lawrence’s blog.

Smooth Running

October 31, 2009

Herschel is gently moving from performance verification phase to normal operations via the Science Demonstration phase. Currently various short observations are being made. These have all been offered by the large, Key Programme teams, and represent a the full range of possible observing modes. The idea is to get a set of initial scientific observations to make sure that the whole system is performing well and to get a flavour of the science results that will come from the longer mission.

This is all going rather nicely and it’s already clear that some excellent results are coming. Unfortunately these are all embargoed until ESA has a big meeting in the middle of December to make the first announcement of Herschel science results.

I can nevertheless tell you that good stuff is on its way.

In the meantime those of you in London might like to know about the next if Imperial College’s Great Debates. The subject this time is ‘Human Spaceflight: Science or Spectacle?” with your humble correspondent arguing for ‘spectacle’.

Details can be found here.

When is science not science?

October 17, 2009

I was interested to read, via Lord Drayson’s twitter about the IAwards. These have been ‘Launched by the Government to recognise and celebrate the best of British science, innovation and technology’.

Great, I thought. SPIRE is a UK led instrument that is now doing great things on Herschel. We should try to get a nomination.

Then I saw the list of categories:

Life Sciences
Places to Live and Work Sponsored by Building Magazine
A Consumer Product
Best British Inside
Digital Communications Sponsored by
Cross-application Of Technology Sponsored by Rolls Royce
Energy and Environment
Entertainment and Media Sponsored by The British Library
Best Collaboration
Best Technology Start-up Sponsored by Microsoft BizSpark
The Next Big Thing Sponsored by Siemens
iaward of the year Sponsored by QinetiQ

Which is rather more technology than science, frankly. And even the science areas (eg. Life Science) have significant restrictions on them: ‘This category is for innovation in any life sciences area which supports society in terms of healthcare and the national challenge of an ageing population.’

So this isn’t exactly looking for the ‘best of British science’ is it? In these terms Nobel Prize Winning British science of the past, clearly among the best of British science, would not be eligible eg. the structure of DNA, the discovery of pulsars, the discovery of fullerenes. I’m sure there are more examples.

This would seem to reflect both a serious misunderstanding of how science works – these awards are much more for technology applications than science – as well as a serious undervaluing of many areas of British science that have been and are still (in spite of funding cuts) still very successful.

If you agree with me you might like to tweet Lord Drayson about this. Meanwhile it looks as if SPIRE will have to look elsewhere for an award…