Thursday May 21st 2009. Day 7.


After the huge tension of yesterday today has seen yet another important piece of progress and yet another potentially conflictive test passed with flying colours. Yesterday it was the SPIRE photometer, which will mainly be used for large mapping programmes, being tested and found to be in excellent health. Today the spectrometer was tested. The critical moment was to release the latch pin that has held the SPIRE spectrometer rigidly in place through launch and free the spectrometer. When commanded to move by the SPIRE team at Mission Control the mechanism released successfully to the delight of the SPIRE team.


While SPIRE were carrying out their tests, the first observations to be carried out autonomously were beamed up to Herschel to be stored in its on-board memory for execution tomorrow. Earlier this morning the observations that had been made yesterday were processed by the software at the Herschel Science Centre. Twenty-eight observations were processed in less than an hour and placed in the archive. This was also a very important step for routine observations. There will be tougher tests to come, but the Data Processing team were jubilant that the first test was passed with flying colours.


The next few days are very big ones for Herschel. Tomorrow Herschel will observe on its own for the first time and will send data down that will be reduced automatically during the night. On Sunday we switch-on the other two instruments. It is fair to say that if we get through these next few days unscathed we will have made a huge step to showing that Herschel really is ready to produce revolutionary science.


One of the most exciting things about these days is that I was given the job of keeping the Herschel Twitter page. This page is for very short entries but has the advantage that it can be done in real time. People sign up for the alerts and keep up with the progress of the mission as it happens. Often major news is available on Twitter within seconds of being announced. Many people pass me information and quotes to put out on the Twitter. The number of subscribers to the service has more than doubled since launch and it is fun to keep them informed.


Interesting news about the two small fragments HP04 and HP05: they are not obeying a standard reflection light curve. In fact, they are fading rapidly as if they were evaporating. Hmmmm. Now even some of my colleagues begin to believe that they are just plates of ice shaken off the Ariane’s upper stage.


Unofficial Herschel image of the day archive:


Frequent updates are provided during the day on the Herschel Twitter (ESAHerschel) here: