First of all, welcome to my website and new-look blog!
I had the exciting honour this week of moderating the event coverage for the launch of the European Space Agency’s GAIA mission, which hopes to decode the Milky Way. Wow. The mission has been described as a technological breakthrough in modern astrometry: the science of counting stars. Scientists are hoping to build a 3D map of the Milky Way with all the data that they collate from GAIA over the next five years. I was in Darmstadt, Germany, at ESA’s Operations Centre, with a clutch of top scientists, astronomers and experts who explained what the mission was all about. GAIA is being dubbed the Billion Stars Surveyor, because the goal is to count and measure 1 billion stars so that further discoveries can be made in space, from exploding stars to planets orbiting other suns, as wel as nearby asteroids. That is the science bit, but what was truly awesome was the launch itself. We watched via satellite link from the European Spaceport in Korou – the closest place with an EU post-code to the equator (it is a French colony). The skies were clear and the weather was on our side so we could really see the rocket zoom up and up into the night sky and beyond and could even make out the moment when the boosters fell away like twinkling stars. Everyone was excited, because even though the team had simulated the launch about forty times over the last few months, there can only be one chance for the real thing to go to plan. I am glad to report that it did. 1 billion euros of EU taxpayers money well spent.
As a keen skier (yet to book a sojourn on the slopes this season… suggestions welcome please), I am delighted to hear that skiing really does make us happier, healthier human beings. Which no doubt makes us more productive at work too. A new study from Yonsei University in South Korea finds that skiing improves our overall happiness, even if we only manage a on-off trip to the slopes. Those who get the most benefits are the skiers who manage to ‘switch off’ and forget about everything else while they are on the slopes. People like me. Wrapped up against the elements in my ski-gear, on the top of a mountain with that feeling of being on top of the world, is probably the only time I really switch off. I wonder if I can write off my next ski weekend as a business expense…
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers and your families. Here is to a fabulous 2014.