Category Archives: Space Missions

A Graduate Traineeship at ESA: Working on the James Webb Space Telescope

Not all PhD students join us directly after finishing their Master degree studies. Anurag Deshpande, a first year PhD student, spent a year working at the European Space Agency (ESA), as a Young Graduate Trainee (YGT). With the application process for the next round of YGTs now open, he discusses his time working on the James Webb Space Telescope, how he found the experience, and how it continues to influence him in his PhD research.

Continue reading A Graduate Traineeship at ESA: Working on the James Webb Space Telescope

Advertisements

Non-parametric Cosmology with Cosmic Shear

Cosmology is in pretty bad shape; we don’t know what makes up 95% of the Universe. Galaxies spin too fast and the expansion of the Universe is unexpectedly accelerating. Cosmologists deal with this by inferring the existence of dark matter and dark energy. These form the backbone of the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (LCDM) model. The problem is that we have no physical explanation for the existence of these two components.

Continue reading Non-parametric Cosmology with Cosmic Shear

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.

Continue reading Gaia Radial Velocities

The exceptionally long follow-up of the X-ray afterglow of GRB 130427: what it means for GRB physics.

The Swift satellite, part of which was built at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, detected the remarkable Gamma-ray Burst (GRB) 130427A about 3 years ago. This burst has the highest fluence (energy divided by surface) of the over 1000 events detected by Swift and indeed by any space observatory for 30 years.

Continue reading The exceptionally long follow-up of the X-ray afterglow of GRB 130427: what it means for GRB physics.

Launch anniversary: celebrating Gaia’s 2nd birthday in space

VS06 Soyuz with GAIA, LaunchSoyuz_TMA-19M_launch_647px
Figure 1: Top: Gaia’s launch on a Soyuz-2 rocket (image credit: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2013). Bottom: Tim Peake’s launch on a Soyuz-FG rocket (image credit: http://www.inmarsat.com/tim-peake)

Two years ago today (Saturday 19th December 2015), ESA’s Gaia satellite was launched into space from South America by a Soyuz launch vehicle, operated by Arianespace (see previous MSSL Astro blog for more details. Gaia lifted off at 9.12am UTC (6.12am in French Guiana). On that day, many members of the lab watched the event live on TV and celebrated the successful launch with a champagne breakfast in the MSSL Common Room. One year on and we were back in the MSSL Common Room, celebrating Gaia’s first birthday in space with a fantastic Gaia-shaped cake, decorated to look like Gaia, made by MSSL chef Sue Ford (see previous MSSL Astro blog). Two years on and the launch anniversary falls on a Saturday so we are having a virtual celebration with this blog.

Continue reading Launch anniversary: celebrating Gaia’s 2nd birthday in space

Using Explosions to see in the Dark

One of the main challenges in modern cosmology is to understand how the very low-density matter between galaxies (known as the inter-galactic medium, or IGM) came to be hot and ionized today, reaching temperatures of up to 10 million degrees. It hasn’t always been this way – after the Big Bang the Universe expanded and cooled, eventually reaching temperatures low enough for much of the Hydrogen and Helium plasma within it to combine and form a neutral atoms in a process known as recombination around 378,000 years after the Big Bang. After this, the expansion and cooling of the Universe continued for hundreds of millions of years, leaving it in a dark and increasingly cold state – an era cosmologists refer to as the ‘Dark Ages’.

Continue reading Using Explosions to see in the Dark