The sounds of youth

I do miss the Mellotron. It was the sound of my youth. I resumed my acquaintance on a flight from the UK to Hawaii for my latest observing run by listening to ancient King Crimson. With those synthesised strings a band could sound radical and modern and gushingly sentimental at the same time.

I was expecting more gushing sentiment in Hawaii. I am here to push on with UKIDSS, our infra-red sky survey, which will take a thousand nights at fourteen thousand feet. Except that now it might not finish … as UKIRT‘s closing date has been set by STFC as Dec 31st this year. So this might be my last ever UKIRT run…

So I was expecting the local staff to be wallowing in gloom, bitterness, and weepy nostalgia. What I found was a kind of resigned pragmatism. Senior staff are putting on their salesman hats and looking for buyers; junior staff are just getting on with their jobs.  And of course they are all brushing off their CVs. But there was no ranting or choking back tears.

I did get my nostalgia fix tonight though. Tom Geballe, who is currently on a staff astronomer run at Gemini, dropped in to UKIRT with his son and other visitors. Tom used to work at UKIRT many moons ago, and was touched to find CGS4 still bolted on to its Cassegrain station. He patted it gently. His son too found his head thrown back in time. The sound of his youth, he said, was the CGS4 closed cycle coolers.

But now the future is upon us ! VISTA works. See lovely new Orion picture. Last night I looked at the Orion nebula with my binoculars. Its nice to be reminded every now and again that what we do is real. It ain’t just a TV game.

8 Responses to The sounds of youth

  1. Tom says:

    There’s always been a rather special attitude at UKIRT which was one of the reasons I ended up working there a long time ago now. The staff have changed over the years but the commitment to the telescope and the community it supports has remained. I think much of that is due to us old-timers who remember the days when we were students using the telescope and instill that idea into everyone who works here. Tom Geballe should be thanked for that as well of course!

    I also wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the 31st Dec closing date but I don’t want to say any more at this point.


  2. Aahhh yes, the mellotron. I’m not a fan of Crimson except for their first couple of albums, with Greg Lake. These are true classics though, especially the drumming of Michael Giles.

    I have many Moody Blues (one of the main users of the mellotron) albums on vinyl, but haven’t gotten around to buying them again on CD (no, I don’t download music). First I’ll get my turntable fixed so I can hear the old vinyl, then decide what is worth buying again on CD. To tide me over, I bought a “best of” double CD and was listening to it just yesterday.

    Dare I mix metaphors and ruminate on a thousand nights in white satin? (I’m sure there are some mondegreen enthusiasts who think of knights in white satin, perhaps subconsciously spurred on by the White Knight in Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.)

  3. Dave says:

    I well remember the run where Thor had to go down to sea level thanks to an ear infection and we got Tom filling in as our TSS. That’s just emblematic of the UKIRT attitude – when senior staff fill in at the summit to keep the telescope going.

    I really do hope something can be done to save UKIRT, and with it UKIDSS!

  4. Bill says:

    Great instruments make a great telescope. Can’t believe the same crew are making such an ass of SCUBA2.

    • ian smail says:

      That’s not a fair criticism.

      From the point of view of detector development (SQUID multiplexed, superconducting Transition Edge Sensor arrays with ~10,000 pixels?), cryogenics and shear size, SCUBA2 is a little more technically challenging than some of the stuff which has been put on UKIRT (IRCAM3, UFTI, or even UIST).

    • Gary says:

      The fact that it is “the same crew” should lead you to a different conclusion.

  5. Gary says:

    Andy, it is incorrect to say that “UKIRT’s closing date has been set by STFC as Dec 31st this year”. The formal situation is still “managed withdrawal”, as in the December (2009) announcement. It has not yet been agreed what will happen (closure or something else) or when it will happen. As soon as there is anything definitive it will certainly be announced.

  6. andyxl says:

    Gary – very grateful for that official correction. You are the geezer wot knows.

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