A View from the Lab: Life as a 1st Year PhD Student

You may be considering applying for a PhD at MSSL and want to know more about what it’s really like here. Some of our new students answer questions about how they are finding life as a research student here at the lab. Anurag, Choong Ling, and Nabil joined the Astrophysics group in this September.

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Gaia Radial Velocities

The release of Gaia radial (line-of-sight) velocities in DR2 represents for me the first fruits of 17 years of work in the Gaia project. Such is the timescale of a mission as demanding, and different, as Gaia. I knew from the start, at mission adoption in 2001, that this would be a remarkable endeavour, not only from the scientific and technical perspective, but also from the long term working relationships and comradery that engaging deeply with it would entail.

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From why?! to wifi!! How astronomers can change the world

Historically, astronomy has played a key role in the development of science and technology while also having a large cultural impact. For example, explaining the orbits of the planets was important for understanding that the Sun, and not the Earth, was at the centre of the solar system; that had an enormous impact on our view of our place in the Universe. During the ‘space race’ and the cold war, when astronauts took the first photos of a spherical earth, it was the first direct evidence that the Earth was a sphere, just another planet. Such images emphasise the isolation of the Earth in space, and perhaps underline the fragility of the Earth’s ecosystems. Direct evidence of a greenhouse effect can be seen from Venus, which has been a ‘hot topic’ (excuse the pun!) in international policy in the last few decades. Also, understanding of our early Universe after the big bang has been found using telescopes such as WMAP and Planck. However, most astronomers also contribute their skills and knowledge to industry and culture in less well known ways. This blog post tells a less well known story, that modern wireless technology (which you are probably using to read this very blog post!) was developed by mathematicians, engineers and radio astronomers.

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Curvelets on the Sphere meet Astronomical data: a tool for efficient extraction of elongated structures

Most large celestial objects are found to be approximately spherical in shape, e.g. moons, planets and stars. This is because the cause and the dominating force in cosmic structure formation is gravity: a force which pulls mass in all directions equally. Another sphere is the celestial sphere – the heavens above us upon which we observe astronomical observations. This means that data collected on planetary surfaces or observed on in the sky live natively on the sphere.

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