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SpaceUp Paris, T-64 days!

When I could not make it to SpaceUp Europe in last september, I jokingly told Damien, a friend who was attending, that maybe we should co-host together the first french SpaceUp. He came back with a list of 4 others ready to join the fun… and asked me if I was still in. Mmmm, not *just* a joke then!

We tried to cover all the bases, so you may have already read it on Twitter, Facebook, G+, LinkedIn or the global SpaceUp website…  SpaceUp Paris will take place on 25th and 26th May at the European Space Agency (ESA) Headquarters in central Paris. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the SpaceUp concept whereby participants are invited to actively contribute in presentations and talks on a variety of space themes.

« Room A », ESA Headquarters in central Paris (Credit : SpaceUp Paris / B. Bailleul)

The point is… We’d love to meet you there.

ESA Headquarters in central Paris, France (credit: ESA)

ESA Headquarters in Paris, France (credit: ESA)

But why were we invited to hold the SpaceUp at ESA heaquarters?

Fernando Doblas, Head of ESA’s  Communication Department, replies to the question : “Because we can relate to the basic concept of the SpaceUp. ESA, as a space agency depends on cooperation between European states who understood a long time ago the importance of uniting to undertake together space projects far beyond the scope of what could be achieved by any single European country. Cooperation implies a willingness to listen, to be open to others, and to be ready to learn from each other. This is the spirit of ESA, its ADN, and this is also the spirit of SpaceUp. We are pleased to welcome this event, the first of its kind in Paris and at ESA headquarters, where decisions on space for Europe are taken! ”

Equally convinced by this innovative initiative, CNES, the French space agency, invites the SpaceUp attendees to learn more about the future ESA launcher, Ariane 6. On Friday 24th May, engineers from the CNES Launchers Directorate and ESA’s Launchers Directorate will present their work, take part in interactive workshops and submit challenges to the participants.

Apart from those official events, we look forward to evenings of fun between spacetweeps. Sadly, there will be no Endless BBQ… but I’m sure we’ll nevertheless manage to enjoy each other’s company!

Everything you want to know is on the spaceup.fr website (or so we hope!), but if you have questions, do not hesitate to hail us on any social network!

 

I tweeted my way to ESO’s Very Large Telescope!

As an introduction, let’s just say that ESO – the European Southern Observatory – basically builds and operates the most advanced and powerful telescopes observing from our planet. For their 50th anniversary, they had the awesome idea to get one of their followers to tweet their way to the VLT… I came back a few days ago, and it was a beautiful life-changing experience.

Striking a pose on the VLT platform

The Very Large Telescope is located on top of a Chilean mountain, Cerro Paranal, at an altitude of about 2600 meters. Cerro Paranal is in the Atacama Desert, the driest region on Earth, 2 hours away by car from the nearest town. ESO chose the southern hemisphere to install their telescopes because it enables them to observe the center of the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds… and they chose Chile because the “seeing”, the quality of the observations is excellent. The atmosphere is very stable, the skies are almost always clear, there is no light pollution whatsoever.

Cerro Paranal is often nicknamed the astronomers’ paradise by those who visit it… and with reason; one of them even told me that if he was not married, he would never want to leave! The conditions up there are harsh, and of course observations last all night long, 365 days a year, but Paranal is nonetheless an amazing place to work and live. ESO did a great job when they built the Residencia,  which is beautifully integrated in the surrounding landscape. From the outside, it looks a bit like the underground lair of a James Bond villain… which may explain why the Residencia was chosen as a filming location for Quantum of Solace!

Cerro Paranal hosts 10 active telescopes. There are four telescopes with an 8.2-meters diameter mirror, named UT-1 through 4 and a.k.a. Antu (The Sun), Kueyen (The Moon), Melipal (The Southern Cross) and Yepun (Venus) in Mapuche language. There are also 2 survey telescopes, VST with a 2.6-meters and VISTA with a 4-meters mirror and 4 “small” ones, with “only” an 1.8-meters mirror (the auxiliary telescopes). Telescopes can be combined for specific observations using a process that is called Interferometry – which makes them even more powerful. The 4 auxiliary telescopes can be moved around to any of the 30 positions available on the platform, which opens an amazing range of observation possibilities. I think the only place where I can say it this here, among spacetweeps… I sure did not expect to be so emotionally moved by these gentle giants.

The telescopes are amazing pieces of technology… powerful, silent, and gorgeous in the chilean light – sunrise, daylight, sunset, darkness, moonlight… The view from and on the VLT platform is always breathtaking. Please check out check out my pictures here if youre not convinced yet!

On my last night at Cerro Paranal, I teamed with Henri Boffin – a renowned ESO astronomer- to image Thor’s Helmet, the NGC 2359 nebula… The observation was streamed live on ESO’s website as part of a six-hours broadcast, which I can only recommend you watch if you’re interested in astronomy. The picture we took is stunning! Mathieu (outreach team), Gabriel (astronomer), Claudio (shift supervisor) and I were also live from the VLT platform a few hours later for a Q&A session…

Credit: ESO/B.Bailleul

If I had to sum up this week in Chile… I had a great time, met a lot of people who are passionate about their work, and learned a lot about astronomy and ESO. And if you’d rather read the longer version, please check out my blog entries for this trip… available in both english or french!

Can you imagine that the mirror for the future E-ELT (European-Extremely Large Telescope) will be 39 meters wide?