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Of Galaxy Clusters & Cosmic Dust

A couple of scientific papers I was (loosely) involved in have recently made the news, both exploiting European Space Agency‘s Herschel Space Observatory.

In the first one, my former postdoctoral supervisor, Dave Clements at Imperial College London, combined data from the Herschel & Planck space observatories to detect what we now believe are some of the most distant galaxy clusters found to date. Imperial’s full press release dwells some more on the discovery and its implications.

Herschel/Planck Galaxy Clusters (ESA/NASA/Herschel/Planck & Dave Clements)
Herschel/Planck Galaxy Clusters (ESA/NASA/Herschel/Planck & Dave Clements)

In the second paper, my fellow Italian Luca Cortese used Herschel to perform the most accurate census to date of cosmic dust in nearby galaxies. For the more graphically inclined, my old chum Bruno Merin with the Herschel Science Centre in Madrid has also produced a very nice image slider to navigate the optical and infrared appearance of this large sample of nearby galaxies. ESA’s press release will fill you in with the details.

Herschel Reference Survey (ESA/Herschel/HRS/HeViCS/SDSS & Luca Cortese)
Herschel Reference Survey (ESA/Herschel/HRS/HeViCS/SDSS & Luca Cortese)

Well done to both, then. For the record, the Herschel Space Observatory was launched on May 14th 2009 and carried out scientific operations until the liquid helium employed to cool its instrumentation ran out on April 29th 2013. However, its 37,000 scientific observations, illustrated in the animation below, will be actively studied for years to come. Here’s to many a press release and shiny graphics!

The Way We Used To Meet

Scientists used to complain about being involved in too many meetings.

These days, they more often complain about being summoned to too many telecons, videocons and immersive remote-attendance meetings of all sorts. And some of the software systems developed to make all of this somewhat less painful are not too bad, actually.

And so I find myself attending, along with my boss sitting atop a Hawaiian volcano where he is observing at a telescope, the first meeting of the HELP consortium taking place in Brighton, Sussex, UK.

This got me thinking about how we as humans crave in-person contact, and how mundane and disconnected we feel when communicating through a computer screen. That is why I think it’s important for companies to read resources like this page in order to get acquainted with what’s needed to satisfy customers and coworkers alike.

Here’s a sneak peek at our humble objectives.

HELP Objectives
HELP Objectives


The first HELP (Herschel Extragalactic Legacy Project) consortium meeting will take place later this week in Brighton (UK).

HELP is a collaborative research project funded by the EU FP7-SPACE-2013 program and led by the University of Sussex to bring together and exploit most multi-wavelength data obtained in extragalactic fields observed by the European Space Agency‘s Herschel Space Observatory, and particularly those covered by the HerMES and H-ATLAS projects.

HerMES Fields
HerMES Fields overlaid on Sky Dust Emission Map (IRAS/COBE/ David Schlegel, Mattia Vaccari)

Specifically, UWC Astrophysics will be leading the Multi-Wavelength ‘Data Fusion’ work package, but we will also be strongly involved in providing the MeerKAT radio observations which will be key in identifying and studying Herschel sources.

The project runs for 4 years (2014-2017), and lots of hard work and exciting science lie ahead, but as it is so often the case, at this inaugural meeting most of the time will arguably be spent ironing out the details of the work plan and the interfaces between the different nodes of the consortium. And I will not even be able to go out for a pint after wrapping up for I will be eavesdropping on the meeting over Skype from Cape Town.