5 June 2012
Greetings from Paris! I’ve been here since Saturday afternoon, first taking some time to recover from jet lag and be a tourist, and then yesterday and today I have been at the ChemCam team meeting at the Observatoire de Paris.
We’ve had a lot of good discussions: sharing the latest information about how we are getting ready for landing, how to use our various software tools, what sorts of science we plan to do once we are on Mars, and the million other details that need to be taken care of before we are ready for the primary mission. The Observatoire has been a great place for a meeting. Today we took a break and got a tour of the museum in the same building as our conference room, which was focused on celebrating the work of famous French astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini. The building we have been in was the location of the prime meridian before it was moved to Greenwich – Cassini played a big role in accurately calculating longitude back in the day. Since clocks and watches were not accurate enough at the time, he used the moons of Jupiter as a high-precision clock! He also made the authoritative pre-photography map of the moon, charted the course of Halley’s comet, and of course discovered the gap in Saturn’s rings that now bears his name.
Another very cool aspect of the meeting was the meeting room itself. It is so much classier than the generic conference rooms typical of the US. It is a round room, with tall windows alternating with majestic portraits of famous French astronomers and physicists. And then, up on the ceiling is a beautiful painting of the transit of Venus inspired by the astronomical event in 1886. Of course, this is especially fitting because today/tomorrow is the last transit of Venus that anyone alive today will see. Here in France the transit will be in progress at dawn, and we will try to watch it from the roof of the observatoire. Unfortunately, the forecast looks cold and rainy so the artwork over our heads during the meeting might be the only transit of Venus that we see. Rain or shine though, tomorrow after the transit we head out of town for a geology field trip to wrap up the meeting.