Archive for Euclid

Euclid Launch Delay

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on June 17, 2022 by telescoper

Until relatively recently we al thought the European Space Agency’s  Euclid mission would take place later this year (2022). For various reasons that date subsequently slipped to the first quarter of 2023.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine which, because Euclid was intended to be launched on a Russian Soyuz vehicle a further delay seemed likely (see here). The subsequent decision by the Russians to remove all their personnel from the launch site at Kourou (see here) made these even more likely as an alternative launch vehicle would have to be used.

There was an update about the situation at the recent Euclid Consortium meeting in Oslo which I could not attend but which I referred to here. The basic problem is that Plan B involves launching Euclid on an Ariane 6 rocket (which comes in two varieties, Ariane62 and Ariane64, with two and four boosters respectively). The problems are (a) that Ariane 6 is that it hasn’t yet had its first flight and (b) Euclid isn’t the only spacecraft now having to find an alternative launcher. The competition from commercial and military satellites may mean a lengthy delay to the Euclid Launch unless lobbying succeeds at a political level.

It has now emerged that earliest feasible date for launch on an Ariane 6 rocket is the 3rd quarter of 2024 and it may well be later than that, the uncertainty exacerbating the effects of the delay itself.

This is all very unfortunate. Euclid is now fully built and ready so a lengthy delay would be very damaging to morale. More concretely, many researchers employed to work on Euclid are on fixed-term contracts which will now expire before they can complete their work. This will have a very serious effect on younger researchers. To keep everything going while the spacecraft waits for a launch will be extremely expensive: the Euclid Consortium Board estimates a cost of about €50M for every year of delay and it is by no means clear where those funds would come from.

It seems to me that the best hope for a resolution of this problem would be for ESA to permit the launch of Euclid using something other than Ariane 6, which means using a vehicle supplied by an independent commercial operator. I sincerely hope ESA is able to come up with an imaginative solution to this very serious problem.

P.S. With this update, the odds on me retiring before Euclid is launched have just shortened considerably…

Euclid Launch Concern

Posted in Politics, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on April 27, 2022 by telescoper

I saw the following picture on Twitter. It was taken during a talk at the annual Euclid Consortium Meeting (which I am not at) and it gives a not -very-optimistic update about the timescale for the launch of Euclid.

Picture Credit: Hervé Aussel

I thought a delay in the launch was inevitable as soon as news broke of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (see here) because the original plan was to launch on a Russian Soyuz vehicle. The subsequent decision by the Russians to remove all their personnel from the launch site at Kourou (see here) made these even more likely, although according to the slide not certain.

The basic problem is that Plan B involves launching Euclid on an Ariane 6 rocket (which comes in two varieties, Ariane62 and Ariane64, with two and four payloads boosters respectively). The problems are (a) that Ariane 6 is that it hasn’t yet had its first flight and (b) Euclid isn’t the only spacecraft having to find an alternative launcher. The competition from commercial and military satellites may mean a lengthy delay to the Euclid Launch unless lobbying succeeds at a political level, which is what the last lines of the slide are about.

Being one of life’s pessimists I think a long delay is the likeliest outcome, though this is not based on any specific knowledge at all about the discussions going on and I’d be delighted to be proved wrong. I am now however seriously wondering whether Euclid will be launched before I retire!

The Little Things

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , on February 25, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday morning I heard the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine via the radio as soon as it woke me up at 7am. It took me a while to summon up the energy to get out of bed and get ready for my 9am lecture. The routine things of life seem so trivial and futile compared to wars and other disasters over which one has no influence. But it does not help Ukraine (nor anyone else, including yourself) to be overwhelmed by despair. So I got up and did my lecture, as I did this morning with a 9am tutorial.

Somehow, it feels like a duty to persevere. I think that’s partly because the tyrants of this world want people to feel powerless. By persisting with the little things you are, in a very small way, defying those who want you to be terrified. The image of Vladimir Putin as some sort mastermind, a Karla-like bogeyman with strategic superpowers, has hypnotized too many. He’s just a sad old relic of the Cold War.

I try to resist looking at the news too often, my desire to stay informed tempered by a wish to remain sane. I’d like to believe that the Ukrainians can hold out, but they’re massively outnumbered and outgunned so the odds are heavily against them. But they’re fighting on their home soil for a just cause against an invader. That should count for something. The longer they can hold out wear down the Russian army the more chance there is that the tide will turn against Putin at home.

I doubt that sanctions from the West will have any impact on Putin’s murderous intentions, at least not in the short term. In any case they look weak to me. Russian teams are still playing in UEFA tournaments, and Russia will still be in Eurovision. Why is this tolerated?

I spent an hour yesterday on a zoom call related to the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, which is due to be launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2023. The latest batch of sanctions may lead to a delay in Euclid or even its cancellation. That would be a major problem for many scientists around the world. It’s a big thing for us, but it gets smaller when you compare it with what’s happening in the world. I bet a majority of us working in cosmology would prefer to see Euclid scrapped altogether than see further death and destruction unfold. I know I would.

It wouldn’t work that way, of course, but the question we have to ask ourselves is who are we happy to do business with? How could you sleep at night after giving money to or taking money from the Kremlin or its proxies? Maybe Putin will succeed only in giving the West a renewed sense of moral certainty.

For years the West has been corrupted by dirty money from Russia’s gangster oligarchs. Now Ukraine is paying the price. We’ve been far too slow to understand the true nature of who and what we’ve been dealing with. Now it’s time to get serious. “Business as usual” no longer applies, at least not with Russia…

A Piece of Euclid

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on January 6, 2022 by telescoper

Fame at last! A colleague from the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University told me the above piece appeared in today’s Irish Times so I rushed out and bought the paper. My rapture was rapidly modified however when I discovered that my name was given incorrectly (as Cole instead of Coles), but that was to some extent offset by the amusement it would give my colleagues to see me described as an “Experiment Physicist”. These two slips are now corrected in the online version of the article which you can find here.

I was quite surprised by the sudden appearance of the article today because I spoke to the writer, Seán Duke, about Euclid well over a year ago (May 2020). That’s the reason that some things are a bit out of date. For example, the launch of Euclid will now not take place until the first quarter of 2023. Also the piece states that the largest telescope in space is the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) which is no longer the case (as of Christmas Day 2021…).

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the student to spot any other errors. Please feel free to point them out through the Comments Box. If you’re not banned, that is…

New Publication at the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2021 by telescoper

Time to announce another publication in the Open Journal of Astrophysics. This one was published yesterday, actually, but I didn’t get time to post about it until just now. It is the third paper in Volume 4 (2021) and the 34th paper in all.

The latest publication is entitled Dwarfs from the Dark (Energy Survey): a machine learning approach to classify dwarf galaxies from multi-band images and is written by Oliver Müller  of the Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg (France) and Eva Schnider of the University of Basel (Switzerland).

Here is a screen grab of the overlay which includes the abstract:

 

You can click on the image to make it larger should you wish to do so. You can find the arXiv version of the paper here. This one is in the Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics Folder, though it does overlap with Astrophysics of Galaxies too.

It seems the authors were very happy with the publication process!

Incidentally, the Scholastica platform we are using for the Open Journal of Astrophysics is continuing to develop additional facilities. The most recent one is that the Open Journal of Astrophysics now has the facility to include supplementary files (e.g. code or data sets) along with the papers we publish. If any existing authors (i.e. of papers we have already published) would like us to add supplementary files retrospectively then please contact us with a request!

R.I.P. Olivier Le Fèvre (1960-2020)

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on June 29, 2020 by telescoper

Olivier Le Fèvre (1960-2020)

The international cosmological community was deeply saddened last week to hear of the death on 25th June after a long illness of Olivier Le Fèvre. He was 59 years old.

Olivier was a specialist in astronomical spectroscopy and as such he made important contributions to cosmology through galaxy redshift surveys. He was Director of the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille from 2004 to 2011. In latter years he was involved, among many other things, in the Euclid space mission.

You can find a full obituary and appreciation of Olivier’s life and work here. His funeral takes place this morning and there is an online book of condolence here to send messages of condolence and support to his family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.

Rest in peace, Olivier Le Fèvre (1960-2020).

Euclid Updates

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on June 17, 2019 by telescoper

Following the Euclid Consortium Meeting in Helsinki a couple of weeks ago, here are a couple of updates.

First, here is the conference photograph so you can play Spot The Telescoper:

(The picture was taken from the roof of the Finlandia Hall, by the way, which accounts for the strange viewpoint.

The other update is that the European Space Agency has released a Press Release releasing information about the location on the sky of the planned Euclid Deep Fields. Here they are (marked in yellow):

These deep fields amount to only about 40 square degrees, a small fraction of the total sky coverage of Euclid (~15,000 square degrees), but the Euclid telescope will point at them multiple times in order to detect very faint distant galaxies at enormous look-back times to study galaxy evolution. It is expected that these fields will produce several hundred thousand galaxy images per square degree…

Selecting these fields was a difficult task because one has to avoid bright sources in both optical and infrared (such as stars and zodiacal emission) so as not to mess with Euclid’s very sensitive camera. Roberto Scaramella gave a talk at the Helsinki Meeting showing how hard it is to find fields that satisfy all the constraints. The problem is that there are just too many stars and other bits of rubbish in the sky getting in the way of the interesting stuff!

 

For much more detail see here.

 

Equality, Diversity and Euclid

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on June 7, 2019 by telescoper

So here I am, back in my hotel, after the second pleasant wine and food reception of the week – this time hosted by the University of Helsinki. I have to leave early tomorrow morning to get back to Maynooth so I’m not among those going for dinner afterwards.

It’s been a very satisfying meeting, in terms of scientific content, organization and even the weather which has been warm and sunny throughout.

That said I feel obliged to mention one less than satisfactory episode which happened this afternoon. Euclid is a very large consortium working on a complex mission. That requires certain management structures to be put in place, including how to deal with the many scientific publications that will hopefully result from the Euclid mission to be as fair as possible to everyone working on the various projects as well as ensuring the scientific quality of resulting papers.

This afternoon a very distinguished senior member of the Euclid Consortium presented an overview of the publication policy on behalf of the Editorial Board which included this slide:

Not knowing all the names I didn’t think twice about the various panels until at the end of the talk a member of the audience pointed out that none of the individuals named are female.

I wasn’t alone in being surprised that such a situation had arisen, especially since Euclid has a Diversity Committee. But what made matters worse was the apparently dismissive response of the speaker, which caused a sharp intake of breath around the auditorium, and left many with the impression that the Consortium needs to look at whether unconscious or other bias might have been involved in the selection of these members. The impression given may have been inadvertent but appearances matter, and I know I’m not the only person who was troubled by what went on this afternoon. I sincerely hope the Diversity Committee looks into this issue as soon as possible.

UPDATE: 21st June 2019. I understand that this issue has been looked into in depth by the Euclid Consortium and active measures are being taken to improve the gender balance in future, which is a very positive outcome.

Notes from Euclid 2019

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on June 4, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve just had my breakfast so I thought I’d do a quick post before the start of play on of the 2019 Euclid Consortium Meeting in Helsinki. Previous Euclid Consortium meetings were held in: Bologna (2011); Copenhagen (2012); Leiden (2013); Marseille (2014); Lausanne (2015); Lisbon (2016); London (2017); and Bonn (2018). I’ve only attended the last two: I was non-Euclidean before that.

Finlandia Hall

The venue is the Finlandia Hall, which looks splendid from the outside. I passed it during my stroll yesterday afternoon just so I could be sure where it is. It’s easy to find as it is very central and on the edge of a lake next to a major thoroughfare (Mannerheimintie). . I arrived yesterday to beautiful sunny weather but that has changed – it is pouring down as I write this, with thunder and lightning to boot. I don’t have to leave the Hotel for an hour or so, however, so perhaps it will have passed. There’s no sign of that just yet but I brought a brolly, and it’s only 15 minutes away from the Hotel on foot.

According to the web page there are 408 participants at the last count. I expect there’ll be quite a few people I know here but I haven’t met any yet. The Euclid Consortium has well over a thousand members, but obviously they’re not all here this week. I seem still to be the only representative of Ireland.

There’s a nice webpage showing all the institutions around the world who belong to the consortium behind the European Space Agency’s Euclid Mission. Here’s a screen grab that shows all the logos of all the institutions involved in this very large Consortium:

There are so many that it’s hard to see them all, but if you look very closely about half way down, among the Ms, you will see Maynooth University among them. Ireland is a member state of the European Space Agency, by the way.

Top tips for participants include not to tip:

Here is the latest timeline for the Euclid mission: launch around June 2022 followed by six years of operations.

If you want to follow on Twitter the relevant hashtag is #Euclid2019.

The Future Circular Collider: what’s the MacGuffin?

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on February 7, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve been reading a few items here and there about proposals for a Future Circular Collider, even larger than the Large Hadron Collider (and consequently even more expensive). No doubt particle physicists interested in accelerator experiments will be convinced this is the right move, but of course there are other projects competing for funds and it’s by no means certain that the FCC will actually happen.

One of the important things about `Big Science’ when it gets this big is that it has to capture the imagination of people with political influence if it is to be granted funding. Based on past experience that means that there has to be a Big Discovery to be made or a Big Idea to be tested. This Big Thing has to be simple enough for politicians to understand and exciting enough to capture their imagination (and that of the public). In the case of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), for example, this was the Higgs Boson. In the case of the Euclid space mission, the motivation is Dark Energy.

The Big Thing that sells a project to politicians is not necessarily the thing that most scientists are interested in. The LHC has done a lot of things other than discover the Higgs, and Euclid will do many things other than probe Dark Energy, but there has to be one thing to set it all in motion. It seems to me that the Big Question about the FCC is whether there is something specific that can motivate this project in the way the Higgs did for the LHC? If so, what is it?

Answers on a postcard or, better, through the comments box below.

 

Humphrey Bogart with the eponymous Maltese Falcon

Anyway, these thoughts reminded me of the concept of a  MacGuffin. Unpick the plot of any thriller or suspense movie and the chances are that somewhere within it you will find lurking at least one MacGuffin. This might be a tangible thing, such the eponymous sculpture of a Falcon in the archetypal noir classic The Maltese Falcon or it may be rather nebulous, like the “top secret plans” in Hitchcock’s The Thirty Nine Steps. Its true character may be never fully revealed, such as in the case of the glowing contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction , which is a classic example of the “undisclosed object” type of MacGuffin, or it may be scarily obvious, like a doomsday machine or some other “Big Dumb Object” you might find in a science fiction thriller.

Or the MacGuffin may not be a real thing at all. It could be an event or an idea or even something that doesn’t actually exist in any sense, such the fictitious decoy character George Kaplan in North by Northwest. In fact North by North West is an example of a movie with more than one MacGuffin. Its convoluted plot involves espionage and the smuggling of what is only cursorily described as “government secrets”. These are the main MacGuffin; George Kaplan is a sort of sub-MacGuffin. But although this is behind the whole story, it is the emerging romance, accidental betrayal and frantic rescue involving the lead characters played by Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint that really engages the characters and the audience as the film gathers pace. The MacGuffin is a trigger, but it soon fades into the background as other factors take over.

Whatever it is or is not, the MacGuffin is responsible for kick-starting the plot. It makes the characters embark upon the course of action they take as the tale begins to unfold. This plot device was particularly beloved by Alfred Hitchcock (who was responsible for introducing the word to the film industry). Hitchcock was however always at pains to ensure that the MacGuffin never played as an important a role in the mind of the audience as it did for the protagonists. As the plot twists and turns – as it usually does in such films – and its own momentum carries the story forward, the importance of the MacGuffin tends to fade, and by the end we have usually often forgotten all about it. Hitchcock’s movies rarely bother to explain their MacGuffin(s) in much detail and they often confuse the issue even further by mixing genuine MacGuffins with mere red herrings.

Here is the man himself explaining the concept at the beginning of this clip. (The rest of the interview is also enjoyable, convering such diverse topics as laxatives, ravens and nudity..)

There’s nothing particular new about the idea of a MacGuffin. I suppose the ultimate example is the Holy Grail in the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in which the Grail itself is basically a peg on which to hang a series of otherwise disconnected stories. It is barely mentioned once each individual story has started and, of course, is never found. That’s often how it goes with MacGuffins -even the Maltese Falcon turned out in the end to be a fake – they’re only really needed to start things off.

So let me rephrase the question I posed earlier on. In the case of the Future Circular Collider, what’s the MacGuffin?