My sabbatical is nearly over. Midnight approaches and the shadow of teaching looms… Fair Nature’s eye, rise rise again and make perpetual day; or let this hour be but a year, a month, a week, a natural day, that Faustus may repent and save his soul ! The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike, the Devil will come, and Faustus must be damned !
Err.. oh. Sorry. Got carried away. Luckily, before I am dragged down into the dark, I get to spend a few weeks in Aspen. I suppose this is a kind of inverse of Purgatory. Its achingly beautiful here in Colorado, but expensively chic in Aspen itself. Last night I walked past a building with smoked windows and no sign of anything to buy. The sign said “Franck Muller : Master of Complications”. I thought maybe this was some kind of spooky secret society, but Google later revealed unto me that in fact Franck Muller is a Swiss geezer wot makes fancy watches.
So here at the Center for Zen Physics I am attending a workshop on Wide Fast Deep Surveys of the Future. Like most Aspen workshops its rather loosely organised, but there have been one or two actual talks. One of these was by Roc Cutri, updating us on the status of WISE, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer. This is a MIDEX mission due for launch November this year, which will make a mid-IR survey of the sky. It recently passed its vibration tests. I have often heard about these, but never seen what happens…
Roc showed us a picture of the WISE spacecraft surrounded by a ring of 20 foot tall loudspeakers. He said that big trucks turned up and a gang of roadies set up this giant PA system, loaded up their favourite Led Zeppelin CD, and then ran for cover. Really. Nearly as good as Disaster Area.
As Peter Coles recently noted in his blog, most normal rock bands are louder than the big bang, so Disaster Area are probably going overboard.
While we’re on the subject, perhaps someone should make a Spinal Tap-style mockumentary on (the bureaucratic aspects of) astronomy. Probably, as with Spinal Tap, those unfamiliar with the field will find it hilarious, and those within it won’t see the point, as it simply documents stuff they’ve lived through many times. (Many rock musicians fail to see the humour in Spinal Tap, since to them it is just normal life, and several didn’t even realise it was a spoof at first, wondering why they had never heard of the band.)
The Swedish formation-flying satellites known as Mango and Tango (aka Prisma) go up later this year. On their blog there’s a fabulous little video of a vibration test:
Led Zeppelin have another connection to UK astronomy, a certain wag on the UKIRT staff accidentally allowed the sounds of Stairway to Heaven to resonate rather loudly through the partially open dome slit, at exactly the same moment that the ground breaking ceremony for the dome extension was taking place just outside.
Needless to say, the Astronomer in Charge, broke off from the group of dignitaries who were standing around the ground breaking, and took the opportunity to mention to the said wag that he was not personally a LZ fan, and that it might be just a little bit appropriate to adjust the volume setting a little (it wasn’t me … but I do have first hand knowledge of the event …! Needless to say, the said wag didn’t continue to work in the professional astronomy field much longer after that).
I think Robert Cummings’s comment captures well the Spinal-Tap nature of some astronomy. Mango and Tango? Sound like either Bond girls or Black-Sabbath groupies in the 1970s (or both).
While we’re on the subject of UK astronomy and rock music, I’m sure all are familiar with the credentials of Dr. Brian May. Bringing Freddie Mercury into the picture, however, would be going a bit too far. “Galileo Galileo!”