Flamsteed Astronomy Society

Visit to Rutherford Appleton Labs, Didcot

May 12, 2006

Around 20 of us set out on a blazing day in May, to perform a tour of inspection of the Old Kent Road, M4 (Motorway, not Messier), and A34 trunk road.†† We found traffic flow on all these vital arteries to be lamentable.†† The Old Kent Road was all but blocked at 09:30 thanks to a wreck, and at 16:00 the A34 was completely closed by several wrecks.†† Nevertheless we finished this thorough review of Britainís world-class transport infrastructure in a mere 8 hours driving, at a creditable 12 mph or so, average speed.† The outside temperature hit 25 degrees, but inside the bus it was a balmy 35, very like much-to-be-desired tropical Queensland.

Half-way round our tour we decided a short break was in order.† Accordingly we paused at the Crown & Horns Inn, East Ilsley, Berkshire, just off the A34 on the way up to Didcot.† There we sat outside enjoying the sunshine, and consumed an excellent lunch from the Innís extensive repertoire.† The food was very good too.† During lunch we fell in with a gang of reprobates from nearby Rutherford Appleton Labs.† Jeremy Curtis, formerly Head of Communications, suggested that, rather than continue our examination of the road system, we might like to visit RAL and have a look at some of the work and hi-tech gizmos under development there.† On such a lovely day, it was an offer too good to refuse.

RAL is very active in countless research and development projects including some in particle physics. We were particularly interested in RALís Space Science & Technology Dept. which is very prominently involved in a most impressive list of space and related projects,†† Our visit began with Jeremy presenting an overview.† He did this splendidly in 18 minutes without hesitation, deviation, or repetition.† (Letís see YOU try, then).†† Given that what we mostly read about in the press is a recital of apparently US or French, NASA or ESA, missions, this extensive roll-call of British contributions (in many cases, leadership) is very pleasing to hear.

Then off we went on a whistle-stop tour of the facilities, taking a closer look at three projects where RAL has a leading, or very significant, role :

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SOHO/CDS The Solar & Heliospheric Observatory Coronal Diagnostic Spectrometer

Herschel Space Observatory/SPIRE Spectral & Photometric Imaging Receiver

VISTA Camera† Visible & Infrared Survey Telescope

 

Any road-up, enough of this fun.† Lots of roads to be inspected before bedtime.† Back on the bus at once!

A welcome break for lunch and some solids, at the excellent Crown & Horns Inn, East Ilsley, Berks† (No, thatís the county)††

picture Mike Dryland

Herschel/SPIRE briefing

picture Mike Dryland

SOHO/CDS briefing††

picture Mike Dryland

VISTA camera test facility

picture Gil Newnnham

Hard work, these road inspections

Picture Gil Newnnham

Hands-on SOHO session for Terry

picture Gil Newnnham

VISTA camera test facility

picture Mike Dryland