This week I was in the truly wonderful city of Bologna, home of possibly the oldest university in Europe. Nowadays, Bologna is also the home of IASF-BO, the Italian Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica, and was hosting this year’s Planck Satellite Consortium meeting.
Of course I can’t talk about anything that was actually presented at the meeting — as I’ve mentioned before, there are strong restrictions on what is allowed to be discussed before the data become public in about three years. Indeed, that communication policy was itself the topic of considerable discussion — it turns out that at least a couple of Planck’s “highest ranking” scientists had recently been deemed to be in “non-compliance” with the policy (which may be different from actually violating the policy, but no one is quite sure…).
Luckily, there was plenty to talk about amongst ourselves between the political discussions. I reported on our efforts in London to recover Planck’s “pointing solution” — that is, to figure out where, exactly, each of Planck’s fifty or so detectors are actually looking on the sky at any given moment. This is obviously crucial to getting good science out of Planck — indeed, even though the instrument smears the sky with a resolution of about four arcminutes (about 1/15 of a degree), we want to know the pointing to roughly 10 arcseconds (about 1/360 of a degree)! But there were several hundred scientists at the meeting, so plenty to discuss, besides, over the course of the week, from Planck’s electronics to the eventual scientific results on the earliest instants of the Universe. The first hints of this science, but not much more, are present in the pictures we showed from Planck’s first-light survey. And I should point out that, despite at least one attempt — which I hesitate to even link to — there is really no science to be had in any analysis of what we’ve presented. We’re not taking three years to analyze the data just to be selfish — at least not entirely. It will take that long before we can understand the instrument well enough to interpret the data that comes out of it.
Luckily, Bologna is also known for its food, and aside from the excellent conference snacks and lunches (and a blow-out dinner at a local Palazzo from which I mostly recall the giant parmigiana wheel and the copious grappa), it was pretty easy to find excellent food at pretty much any local Trattoria (like La Montanara and the strangely-named Serghei). So now I am back, fat, happy, and with plenty of Planck work to do in the next few weeks, months and years.