It’s amazing to think it, but today, May 14th, is the first anniversary of the launch of Herschel – and its been quite a year, to say the least.
It doesn’t seem like 12 months – this time last year (literally, as I write this), I was sitting in a large lecture theatre at the Rutherford Appleton Lab in Oxfordshire with about 200 others (a mix of people working on Herschel and their guests) waiting for launch time to approach. To say I was on tenderhooks would be an understatement – if things went awry, I was out of a job (which happened to people after the lost of CLUSTER in 1996), something which would be pretty disastrous career wise, but also given the need to support my soon to expand young family. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.
The ride uphill on that Ariane was the 26 longest minutes of my life, even more so when the telemetry suddenly stopped. Luckily, it was due simply to the change over of tracking stations, so a major heart attack/numbness/crying was averted. Once Herschel separated from the Ariane and Planck, it was finally time to relax. And get very, very drunk. Needless to say, a lot of alcohol was consumed that night, including the very fine ‘Herschel’ rioja. A fantastic day and a fantastic evening.
The next year was amazing, but hard work – we needed to get the telescope (and our instrument, SPIRE) up and running and properly calibrated so as to produce scientifically useful data for our observers. The problems with HIFI certainly ramped up the pressure – suddenly, we had all this extra time to observe with, so the pace for a few months afterwards was unrelenting as we were putting together observations, looking at the results and tweaking the telescope as a result to improve the next batch, all under a very tight schedule.
It was a pretty fantastic feeling, though, once the first regular science (versus engineering/calibrations) observations were performed in October – I guess it’s a bit like the pride of seeing your kids off to school for the first time. Once HIFI came back online in the new year, we were sailing. Herschel was working beautifully.
The last few months have been equally been hectic – as the science data has flooded in, the Herschel research consortia have been very busy processing/analysing their data and writing papers. The sheer volume of stunning new results at ESLAB 2010 last week is a testament to the sterling work of the Herschel instrument teams and the research consortia – Herschel and its individual instruments are engineering marvels, and the science coming out is amazing. Well done everyone, the kudos are well deserved.
There’s a swarm of papers on the astro-ph archive in the last few days (and yours truly is a co-author on quite a few, and first author on one), all top-notch stuff – all will be published in the Astronomy & Astronomy Herschel special edition in the next couple of months, but keep an eye out for press releases to accompany them as well. (If you want to look on the astro-ph archive (which is free), follow this link.
It’s been a fantastic year (and capped by the birth of my daughter, now nearly a year old) – thanks everyone, it’s been an absolute pleasure to work on Herschel. Here’s to quite a few more birthday anniversary celebrations for this remarkable observatory. Now, if I could only find my camera…. there’s a lot of incriminating photos from this time last year….
(Oh, and let’s not forget fond birthday wishes to our friends at Planck!)