Euclid officially official

June 20, 2012

Maybe you all thought Euclid had already been selected. Well sort of. Yesterday the ESA Science Programme Committee  “adopted” Euclid, so its now officially official and all systems go. Here is the Beeb story.

I am on the Euclid consortium and must get round to doing something useful sometime. I am just realising it should be rather groovy for transients so maybe something in that line. I like big flares of the sleeping black hole variety.

Of course being on the Euclid consortium is not altogether special. There are about nine hundred of us.  I think I read somewhere that it is the biggest astronomical consortium in the history of the Outer Galaxy or something like that. Is this a good thing ?


Spooks to the rescue

June 4, 2012

Not often I write two posts in one day, but here is an unexpected piece of news. It seems that the US National Reconnaisance Office have given two free telescopes to NASA. Its all explained at this NY Times article. They are as big as HST but have a wider field of view. They were designed for looking down of course.  Apparently there has been a secret study team and their conclusion is that one of these beasts would be perfect WFIRST, which had seemed to be kicked into the long grass.

They don’t exactly have the rest of the money yet or an actual approval … but the WFIRST fans are talking about shooting for 2020 … a year behind Euclid.

Ooooo what fun. Spot of healthy competition.


WFIRST Cold Wave

February 15, 2012

Saluton Mondo. Awfully sorry about the gap in service. Busy and all that. Anyway.

So here I am in Sunny Pasadena. Last time I was here it was, like, a hundred degrees or something. This time its overcast and cold ! The locals are apologising and wearing double jumpers. But it seems appropriate because I am here for a meeting  about an infra-red astronomy mission, WFIRST . As many of you will know, WFIRST has a weird history, and is a sort of merger of various proposed missions for dark energy (JDEM), supernovae (SNAP), microlensing (err… something), and IR sky survey (NIRSS). Its pretty exciting but … Euclid is scooping some of that science, and JWST  is eating all the money.

Old chum Richard Griffiths (aka Griff), gave his NASA HQ overview the same day as the President’s proposed FY2013 budget was revealed, including the NASA budget. He wore his tin hat. You can read an overview of the impact on science in this Nature News article, but here are the astro headlines :

  • JWST clearly supported : extra $109M this year
  • Planetary science takes the hit : Exo Mars collaboration with ESA looks dead
  • WFIRST explicitly zeroed

What we were told here at the meeting is that WFIRST may or may not be the next flagship, but if it is, the faucet will not turn on until JWST launch, and then take seven years. So that sounds like a 2025 launch at earliest. Which of course gives the gravy wave and X-ray folk time to re-group.

Oh.. and when I say “zeroed” that can still include $4-5M/yr of study money, as now. But thats just short change in NASA-land…

I got temporarily over-excited on page 61, as there is a “Decadal surveys missions” wedge, with 144M in FY2013. However … this means the Earth Sciences Decadal Survey … oh well.

Meanwhile, it seems NSF overall did quite well, but I have heard no news about how astro did inside this… any reader gossip ?

Finally, in case you hadn’t heard, the Spergel report recommends that the US spend $20M on Euclid….


Bankers replace Bombers

March 14, 2011

Back in my yoof, when we wanted to make the point that something noble but apparently expensive like science or education or foreign aid was actually Rather Cheap if you Looked At It The Right Way, the standard unit of comparison was the B52 bomber. Why, we could have that telescope for little more than the annual repairs on one bomber  ! Now, thanks to Jocelyn Bell-Burnell (Praise Be Upon Her) we have a new unit of evil : the Banker’s Bonus. At last week’s hearing of the Select Committee of Science and Technology, when our Profs were asked what it would cost to keep those northern telescopes going, Roger D said “2-3M”, meaning per year. Jocelyn B-B said “a banker’s bonus”.

I liked this, so I gave it another outing at a rather fun public event on Sunday. Four astronomers were given ten minutes to make a pitch for their favourite project in front of a random selection of punters in the science activities gallery of the national museum in Chambers Street in Edinburgh. Said punters were given Monopoly money and voted for their favourite by putting money in different boxes. Very jolly. Round-1 was me pitching for LSST versus Catherine Heymans pitching for Euclid. Well, she had dark matter and dark energy, and did amusing things with beach balls, but I had killer rocks in space, and you can’t beat that, so I won.

On my last powerpoint slide, I told them how much it costs – about $800M to build and then run for ten years. A full UK share might be £50M (unfortunately not looking likely now..). Still a lot… but spread over seventeen years (start in a year, six years to build, ten years of operations) thats 2.9M per year. Guess what. A banker’s bonus.

So when they added up the monopoly money, Euclid had 1.2M and LSST had 2.4M. What a spooky coincidence …

Of course, really, I was hoping someone in the audience would come to the front afterwards and say “Hi, I’m a banker, and I’ve been wondering what to do with my bonus”.

No such luck.

Get ready for Episode Two by the way.


Decadal bullets

August 14, 2010

So Astro 2010 is on the streets. His Darkness Peter Coles already has an interesting post out in which he makes  two suggestions – first that  the European plan should be deliberately orthogonal to the US plan, and second that we need something similar – a strategic review process that is independent of our funding agency.

It was a fun day for me, as LSST came out so well and I was there at the all hands meeting. Folks were optimistic but uncertain. Project Manager Don Sweeney had a bottle of whisky ready for himself if the news was bad, but as the news was good he quickly got the hotel to rustle up champagne. Later that day I toured the Steward Mirror Lab and saw the LSST blank. It is very weird, having the primary and the tertiary in one block of glass. And this morning that moment was immortalised, as I saw a photo of myself at the Mirror Lab on the front page of the Arizona Daily Star ! But you have to squint. I am third from the left in the line on the ground.

I tweeted the results as they came out in Blandford’s presentation. You can still see the tweets here. I don’t think I am quite ready for a considered analysis – I need time for the dust of a thousand truths to settle on my head – so here are just a few highlight bullets.

  • Space first priority is WFIRST, an IR sky survey mission. Took me by surprise. Seems to be a recast JDEM. An issue for Euclid fans as we thought the JDEM folk would get offered a 20% buy-in to Euclid. Head spinning. This one is fun but scary.
  • LISA beats IXO. Really bad news for X-ray astronomy as a field. At first I thought EXIST would sneak up, but actually it is killed dead. X-ray astronomy needs a really serious re-grouping exercise.
  • Beef up the Explorer program from 40M to 100M per year. Spot on. Fantastic. Start a ground based equivalent of the Explorer program at 40M/yr. Again, fantastic.
  • LSST number one on the ground. What can I say. Except … can we buy into PanSTARRS as well please ? And can we have another go at UK/ESO ? Sorry, somewhat biased here.
  • Choose quickly between TMT and GMT for a 25% federal buy-in. (Both projects are mostly private.). NOAO and Steward folks didn’t like this, and wanted to buy in at half as much to both. Steward Mirror Lab has already started on the GMT mirrors. Saw one being polished.  But its all about doing a deal with ESO, dudes.
  • Buy in to SPICA, ACTA, and CCAT. All excellent choices, but there could have been others too.
  • In the Q&A session, Martha Haynes was asked about SKA, and she said three fascinating things. I paraphrase. One : its really exciting. Two : happening too fast, no money left, sorry. Three : technological readiness questionable. There are some dots you can join there. Please note the above statements are my personal take and not verbatim what Haynes said.

Finally, a point I would make that gels with Peter’s post. When asked why LSST came first, they said “it looks ready to go” and that is correct. But I think the more important point is the groundswell of opinion that they couldn’t ignore. LSST has very extensive “science collaborations” who are working closely with the project, and produced an amazingly comprehensive and convincing Science Book, involving hundreds of scientists. A key point is that those people didn’t just sit on a committee and pontificate about what they would like. They did huge amounts of real work. This makes it unambiguous that they are serious.  The same thing is true for PanSTARRS, but at a smaller level as it is a limited private consortium. The interested scientists did not sit back and wait for things to fall in their lap.