My one and only week back in Sheffield before Christmas was reasonably relaxed, though the first night back was tough. After having been awake for 40 hours already, I had to drag myself out to the Astronomy Group Christmas meal. I spent the evening fluctuating between being quite awake and having a really fun time, and feeling seriously zombie-fied and desperate for sleep. Overall though it was a really great evening, so thanks are due to Chris for organising it.
The rest of the week went pretty quickly. I was in the office everyday, but rarely for longer than a couple of hours, and most of my self-appointed tasks for the week were simple and quick. The most important was of course to claim back for all my expenses in Thailand, which all told only came to around £300. On the Friday I had an excellent meeting with Vik, discussing my progress so far, and prioritising plans for next year. We also spent some time organising for some exciting follow-up time at the telescope in Thailand. Vik had been contacted by radio astronomers in Australia who are using the 64m Parkes Radio Telescope to search for a relatively new transient of unknown origin, the Fast Radio Bursts, or ‘Lorimer’ Bursts. These are very short, strong pulses of radio emission which have so far only ever been discovered in archival data. However, now the clever folks in Australia are able to detect these events in real-time, so we might have the chance to follow them up immediately at optical wavelengths. At the moment we really have no idea what they are, so a detection in the visible would be hugely exciting indeed. Thus I have (and I’m sure Vik and Stu have also) been subconsciously hoping to receive an international phone call all week, as this would be the trigger for follow-up observations.
Unfortunately our robotic telescope on La Palma, the pt5m, is out of action until at the least the end of January with a broken mount. The new, superior mount will be delivered in the new year, and we hope to have it up and running as soon as possible. With Gaia launching successfully last week, it’s only a matter of months before it starts spitting out alerts for new transient sources, and we want to be ready to follow them up.
Stu and I will be returning to La Palma this weekend, ready to start a 3-night observing run with ULTRACAM at the WHT on New Year’s Eve. It’ll be the third year in a row I’ll be out of the UK for NYE, which is a little bit sad. I can’t really complain though, as I’ll be taking a week off immediately after the observing to enjoy the diving, hiking and beautiful scenery of La Palma (so long as the weather behaves nicely).
I also found time to fix my bike and get out into the peaks. I was joined by the new astro research fellow, and a chilly headwind, but it was so good to be out there.