Dinner at the Drones

May 10, 2008

On Friday afternoon I gave a talk to the Royal Astronomical Society on big astronomical surveys and the sociological changes they are driving.. It pluggged UKIRT/UKIDSS, WFAU and CASU, and AstroGrid. I am proud to report these are all STFC Band 4 projects !! Woo hee. Keep going guys. The talk involved a live demo of both the WFCAM Science Archive and AstroGrid and went really well. (Many thanks to Mike Read, Mark Holliman, and Nigel Hambly for last minute server kicking.)

During the day there was a specialist meeting on the 42m Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), with fine opening reviews by Jason Pyromaniac and Captain Hook. Of course this used to be the 100m Overwhelmingly Large Telescope (OWL). I look forward to the day (2009 ?) when it gets descoped to 25m and renamed the FBT (Fairly Big Telescope). Some of the science cases are starting to look rather groovy. My favourite is the proposed CODEX instrument, which would take high resolution spectra of distant quasars. All been done before, you say ? Ah yes but they claim that over a period of twenty years, we should be able to see the Lyman-alpha forest move … i.e. we will actually directly detect the expansion of the Universe. Corr.

After my talk I got invited to the RAS Dining Club. Many years ago when I was a student I assumed the Dining Club was a sort of Astronomical Freemason thing – a secret club within the club where all the decisions got taken. Maybe that was true then, but it sure ain’t now, as about two thirds of the membership is retired anyway. It was like finding myself in a PG Wodehouse story. Dinner was at the Athenaeum, where somebody had to find me a tie. Luckily the Club keeps an emergency tie in a special wooden box. Conversation was deafening and at the end every guest had to tell a funny story. I felt sure that at any moment we would all start throwing bread rolls at Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright.

I didn’t tell the gorilla joke.