Cosmology in the Mediterranean

Like fellow-blogger Mark Trodden , I’ve just spent the week at scientific meetings in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples. The first half of the week was for the yearly consortium meeting of the Planck Surveyor satellite. Although still endangered by further delays, we expect the satellite to be launched in early or mid 2008, and by then we have to be ready to analyze the data from Planck as it gets transmitted, just a few bits at a time, from the satellite at the “L2” point, 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth, a place where the sun, earth and moon will all be in a small area of the sky — so it’s easier to shield the satellite, which is measuring temperature differences of a few parts in a hundred thousand on top of a background just three degrees above absolute zero.

Of course, at an experts-only meeting like this, we didn’t discuss the exciting scientific prospects so much as the details confronting us today: planning how the mission is going to scan the sky, how we’re going to measure the instrument’s properties in situ, and how we’re going to transform the terabytes of data it will produce into information about the universe.

After the detailed work of the consortium meeting, we turned to the scientific side of cosmology as it is today, hearing about details of early universe physics, dark matter, and, especially, Planck’s predecessor, WMAP, from Mike Nolta.

Pompeii 1I even got some time free at the end to spend a day at Pompeii, and at the National Archaeological Museum. Coming from a country only a couple of centuries old, walking through two-thousand year-old streets, it was remarkably easy to imagine the ancient Romans peddling their wares, living their lives, eating and drinking, just like us (except for the slaves, of course…). (More pictures here.)

To top it all off, I returned to find Spring finally arrived in London, my favorite plants in bloom at last. But now, no rest for the weary: after about a day and a half back home, it’s off to another meeting. But that’s an entry for later.