MEET THE CREW: COMET CHASER MATT TAYLOR
When it comes to bringing space exploration down to earth Matt Taylor is a class act. He’ll be sharing his stunning experiences as a Session 1 panelist on April 22nd.
Tell us a little more about what you do.
“I work for the science directorate at ESA, as a Project Scientist and the main goal of that job is to be the liaison inside ESA for the scientific community outside of ESA to make sure we’re doing the work that they want us to do.”
Was that your specialty?
“I actually came into ESA to work on a space plasma mission called Cluster- my area of expertise is in space plasma physics. It permeates the universe – it’s what the stars are made of. But it’s also the stuff you don’t see, the bits in between. It’s what blows off the sun and impacts the earth’s magnetic field and causes the Aurora Borealis. So that’s my science background and it led to being Project Scientist on the Cluster mission at ESA. My role on Cluster honed my ability to work with and inside of a large team, and it lead to me joining the Rosetta mission. Rosetta had a plasma instrument package but it involved a hell of a lot more than that, too.”
Why study comets?
“It’s funny. When I was first asked to go on Rosetta, this big mission, my mum finally knew what I did for a living, because everyone goes, ‘I know comets!’ It’s about where we’re from, why we are here. Our sun formed some 4.6 billion years ago, then the planets were formed, and the material that was left over we consider as the small bodies of the solar system today- the asteroids and comets – and by studying them they can tell us what went into making the solar system.”
What have we learned from landing on 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko?
“Comets are particularly interesting because they spent most of their time very far away from the sun, so the stuff that was there at the beginning was frozen in and remains there. We found that the comet material is nice and fluffy – it looks like dense rock but its not, it would float on water. It’s full of stuff that was put together before even the sun was created. Just by looking at this black icy dustball we can constrain the conditions that went into the creation of the sun. The results are that direct. It really touches on, ‘how are we here? How did we get here?’”
How did you get into science?
“The reason I’m a scientist is because my mum and dad wanted me to go to university – my dad didn’t want me to be a bricklayer like him, and he encouraged that by asking me to help him out on building sites which was motivating, as my back can attest! Star Wars had a big effect on me, too, and playing Elite was a massive part of my life as a teenager too. I would immerse myself. I’d turn the lights off and focus on being in interplanetary space, spending a huge amount of time thinking I was some kind of Buck Rogers space entity. Now I’m over 40 and dress as a Stormtrooper instead…”
Who are your heroes?
“I’ve met Tim Peake and a couple of the other astronauts, including Samantha Cristoforetti and I was a bit speechless. If I could pick anyone it’s them, I couldn’t conceive of doing what they do, they put their lives on the line to explore. I actually contemplated putting my name down for the astronaut call that Sam and Tim were eventually selected in, and at the time I was talking to colleagues and they suggested that I’d be be like Homer Simpson in that episode where he breaks the ant farm on the International Space Station…”
Why do you think we explore?
“It touches on the essence of humanity. If you extrapolate backwards to us living in caves, looking out and wondering what’s out there, it’s about that natural human tendency to go out and see what’s over the next hill. It’s Star Trek. It’s the final frontier. It’s because we don’t know what’s there and to be human is to want to find out.”
Dr. Matt Taylor will be appearing at session one of Space Rocks on April 22nd at Indigo at the O2 in London. Get your tickets here!
And if you’d like to see a little more of comet 67P, ESA have just added over 5,000 images to their archive. Check them out here!