Gaia reaches L2 orbit; stars in sight!

Two-and-a-half weeks after its launch, the European Space Agency‘s Gaia star-tracking spacecraft has reached its operational orbit, some 1.5 million km from Earth at the so-called Lagrange 2 point – one of five points where the gravity of the Sun and Earth balance, allowing for a stable orbit around the Sun.

For Gaia, this stability is critical. Once the spacecraft is shaken down, calibrated and commissioned, in about four months, its super-sensitive optics (including a billion-pixel digital camera, the biggest ever to fly in space) will begin scanning the skies to detail the positions of one billion of the Milky Way’s 100 billion stars. Each star will be spotted about 70 times during the five-year mission, so the resulting 3D catalogue will allow astronomers to see how our galaxy has shifted through time – including into the future.

Gaia is also expected to discover thousands of planets orbiting distant stars, as well has many asteroids and other objects inside our own solar system. To put this achievement in context, the catalogue that scientists rely on today – compiled by an earlier ESA stargazing mission – contains highly accurate measurements of only about 120,000 stars, and less-precise data on another 2.5 million.

But to achieve all this, Gaia needs to keep its instruments cold (at about -100°C) and it needs to control its position and rate of rotation very closely. At the L2 point, the Earth is always between Gaia and the Sun, minimising the amount of precious station-keeping fuel the spacecraft needs to expend to keep its 10m-diameter sunshield facing the Sun and its instruments on the deep space, cold, side.

Gaia lifts off from ESA's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana (credit ESA)

Gaia lifts off from ESA’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana (credit ESA)

But the Lagrange points are actually more complicated than that – they are, ironically, unstable points. So, a spacecraft can’t “sit” at L2; rather it has to orbit around L2. In Gaia’s case, that orbit is a 263 000 x 707 000 x 370 000 km “ellipse” that it will round every 180 days. As Gaia spacecraft operations manager David Milligan puts it: “Entering orbit around L2 is a rather complex endeavour, achieved by firing Gaia’s thrusters in such a way as to push the spacecraft in the desired direction whilst keeping the Sun away from the delicate science instruments.” A small course correction will be made next week to complete the manoeuvre.

L2 is fortunately a large region and not really a point, so it can be used by multiple spacecraft. ESA’s Planck mission to measure the remnant radiation of the Big Bang operated there until its retirement in October 2013 to a more distant parking orbit, and the Hubble-successor James Webb space telescope will work from L2 following its launch in 2018.

Experience is a star with Gaia

People in the rocket launching business, no surprise, have seen lots of rocket launches. The same for people who make spacecraft, because they have to be on hand to make sure the payload is alright, which is the point of the whole expensive exercise. The rest of us had better treat a rocket launch like a special occasion.

I’m writing aboard a charter flight from Cayenne to Paris, returning home from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana after viewing, as a guest of the European Space Agency, the launch of its latest science mission – Gaia, a €740 million project to map the Milky Way in unprecedented 3D accuracy.

Before I set off from London two days ago, friends or colleagues who learned where I was going invariably used the words “experience of a lifetime”. Having done it, I can only agree  – even as a journalist who’s had his share of experiences of a lifetime on other people’s money.

But for a few ticks of fate, this would actually have been my third trip to see a launch. But fate intervenes, so I wasn’t counting my experiences until I actually saw the Soyuz rocket leave the ground in its fire and fury. Weather or glitches happen, and it’s not unusual for a party like this one – mission stakeholders and press – to fly back home without seeing anything.

Vol, Gaia

Vol, Gaia

Such is the nature of this business, and that’s without considering the possibility of disaster. ESA, Astrium (which built Gaia) and Arianespace (which runs the launches in French Guiana) have an excellent reliability record, but every successful launch is a cause for celebration. As one of the men from Astrium could be heard calling out to Gaia as the brightest star in the early morning sky rose steadily above our heads, “Vol, mon petit – vol!”

My handheld photo here does the scene no justice, but I like to show the blossom effect of the rocket’s exhaust; more seasoned watchers said later that this excellent view – as dawn broke – of such a wonder made this the most perfect flight they’d seen.

By definition, I have to say I’m with them. But it’s hard to think how to improve on flight VS06, or Vol Soyuz no 6 (6 from Guiana, that is; since 1966 Soyuz rockets have flown more than 1,800 times). With lift-off at 0612 local time (0912 GMT), the sky was just getting light, so the rocket thrusting up on the pad lit it up like daytime and, once at altitude, the sun on the exhaust tail was magical; indeed, the backlit sky actually sparkled as debris settled when used stages were discarded.

That image, which could only be seen first-hand, is something I’ll remember vividly whenever I think about a mission to scan the sky and find a billion stars.


Another reason watching a rocket launch is such a rare treat is that, mostly, launch sites are remote places not easily visited. Cayenne is 10hrs’ flying time from Paris, so nobody just happens by and stops for a minute to watch a rocket scream away. Likewise the Russians’ main launch site, Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. As for Plesetsk cosmodrome, that’s on a military base 800km north of Moscow and just outside the Arctic circle – useful for flying the modified ballistic missiles that nowadays lift many a satellite to polar orbit, but not exactly a tourism hot-spot.

The Chinese launch from remote places under strict military control; one colleague on this Cayenne trip who attended the recent International Astronautical Union conference in Beijing says he was surprised (or not, given China) to find that none of the Chinese journalists who follow spaceflight had seen a launch.

Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral is probably the exception to the rule, at least for people in southern Florida. But tales are many of great expense and logistical hassle undertaken in vain to watch Space Shuttle launches that got delayed.

Security and safety also works against the launch fan. London, New York and Paris don’t have spaceports because it’s better if a failed launch drops pieces of burning rocket a little farther from populated areas.

And, it’s also best to launch as far south as possible, because the rotation of the Earth gives the rocket a big extra sling – on the order of an extra 460m/s speed in French Guiana – which translates into more payload to orbit. Baikonur is the most southerly point in the old Soviet Union, and remote. Canaveral likewise, though it’s only remote for launches to the East; they don’t launch to the North from there, so as not to fly over the Eastern seabord. When NASA or the US Air Force launch to a polar orbit, which is ideal for Earth observation satellites because the globe spins under them and hence they see every point on the surface periodically, launches are from Vandenberg air force base in California, to fly over the desert.

Hence the beauty of Europe’s facility in French Guiana, which is arguably the best place on the planet for launching rockets. At just 5° north of the Equator and on the shoulder of South America, launches to the North or East are over water and the payload benefit is huge – a Soyuz rocket launched there can orbit about 35% more mass than one flying from Baikonur.

Not only that, French Guiana is legally part of France, which makes life easy for Europeans visa-wise, and makes for good security.  And, it doesn’t have hurricanes – a problem for many Florida launches.

To which I would add that the food is good, the people friendly and the weather very pleasant; December conditions back in northern Europe have been particularly foul these last couple days, apparently.

By any measure, then, an experience of a lifetime!

Exoplanet search tools are getting sharper

  • A fifth of stars like our Sun may have planets like Earth orbiting in their habitable zones
  • The Gaia mission is set to narrow down the search for habitable planets
  • Scientists want to launch a dedicated mission to study “exoplanets”

Are we alone in the universe? Anybody looking for an answer to that age-old question has plenty to get excited about over the next couple months, because scientists are getting ready to use the most powerful new tool in astronomy to help them search for planets orbiting stars far from our Sun – and in January may get the go-ahead to build a spacecraft dedicated to studying distant worlds, including the handful known so far that are anything like Earth.

For centuries astronomers have thought that some other stars must have planets, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the first so-called exoplanets were actually discovered. Since then, many experts have concluded that most stars have planets, and the total number of known planets outside our solar system has climbed to somewhere between 500 and 1,000. But just a few are known to be anywhere near Earth-sized. Most are hot-gas infernos, Jupiter-sized or bigger.

But with the European Space Agency’s 19 December launch of its five-year Gaia mission to map the Milky Way in unprecedented detail, the odds are going to shift, at least a little bit, in favour of the searchers.

One of the keenest searchers is University College London astrophysics professor Giovanna Tinetti. Professor Tinetti studies the atmospheres of so-called exoplanets – planets outside our solar system – and she is gearing up to analyse the deluge of star data that Gaia will stream home. With a 3D map of a billion stars and an expected 10,000 planet discoveries, she plans to find targets for the next generation of stargazing missions.


This 2012 image of Saturn’s moon Titan, taken by the Cassini orbiter, shows sunlight scattered by the moon’s atmosphere – the same technique can reveal details of an exoplanet’s atmosphere (credit NASA/ESA)

What Prof Tinetti and colleagues have found, detailed in the November issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is that Gaia data about exoplanet orbits is going to be at least 10 times more accurate than what is available even from the Hubble Space Telescope. And, as she told some 300 delegates to the annual Rutherford Appleton Laboratory space conference at Harwell last week, knowing where to look is crucial.

To study an exoplanets’ atmosphere, it is necessary to observe its parent star as the planet passes in front, or transits. Then, said Prof Tinetti, it is possible to record not only the change in the star’s brightness, but also the change in its light spectrum. Since different chemicals in the passing planet’s atmosphere absorb specific colours of light, the colours that are “missing” during transit tell us something about the composition of the planet’s atmosphere.

But as Prof Tinetti told the Harwell meeting more than once: “This is hard to do!”

The trick, she said, is going to be to look for large planets that orbit close to their stars, so that they transit frequently. Then, she added, if we look for planets that orbit close to stars that are cooler than our Sun, we have a chance of finding planets with atmospheres that, like Earth, are neither too-hot nor too-cold to be habitable.

The challenge of knowing where to look was highlighted in the 26 November issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, by University of California at Berkeley astronomer Erik Petigura, who studied data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which is designed to find the tell-tale dimming of a star when an orbiting planet passes in front. Of 42,000 Sun-like stars, he found 603 planets – including just 10 that were roughly Earth-sized. But adjusting for Kepler’s “imperfect” detection capabilities Petigura concluded that maybe 22% of Sun-like stars – 8,400 of the stars he studied – could actually have Earth-sized planets orbiting in their habitable zones, and the nearest one could be 12 light years away.

More-precise observations will clearly help narrow the search. As he puts it: “Determining whether Earth-like planets are common or rare looms as a touchstone in the question of life in the universe.”

Prof Tinetti is hoping that her quest for deep understanding of exoplanets captures the imagination of ESA’s Science Programme Committee, which meets in Paris on 21 January to choose one of five mission proposals for development and launch in 2020-2022. She’ll be in Paris to champion her “EChO” project – if it gets the green light, this Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory will be the first mission dedicated to investigating the physics and chemistry of exoplanetary atmospheres.

That’s a long way from finding other life in the galaxy – but at least we should be able to focus on the most promising locations.

Space, Time and Money will be covering the Gaia launch from ESA’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana

Jupiter – the biggest particle accelerator in the Solar system

More from the Rutherford Appleton Space Conference – professor Michele Dougherty is presenting on the European Space Agency’s 2022-launch “JUICE” mission (Jupiter’s Icy Moons) to orbit Ganymede, studying its ice and (we think) liquid water layers, and its dynamo core-generated magnetic field, to explore characteristics of so-called habitable zones.

But one of the interesting side benefits of the mission will be access to Jupiter’s magnetosphere. The biggest object orbiting the Sun has a huge magnetic field and pulls the solar wind hard into its poles. That makes Jupiter the biggest particle accelerator in the solar system.

Meanwhile, physicists are telling  us that even the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva isn’t big enough. Maybe the next mission to Jupiter ought to be an orbiting particle laboratory?

#ISON, spluttering to death

Right now I’m at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Harwell for the annual Appleton Space Conference. Solar physicist Richard Harrison just gave a brief talk on comet ISON, and showed this picture – see the way it swings past the Sun and tries to come back to life, but progressively fizzles out. The comet – a “dirty snowball” – probably didn’t survive its 1.5m km pass of the Sun. Harrison says it’s hard to say, but while something clearly made it around the Sun, what was left may have vaporised. If anything did survive, it almost certainly won’t pass the Sun again. As Harrison put it: “Sun 1, comet nil”.

ISON's close encounter with the Sun doesn't seem to have ended well

ISON’s close encounter with the Sun doesn’t seem to have ended well

Bicycle aerodynamics bumph

For another take on space, time and money, consider 27 miles, an hour and thirteen minutes and – rather a lot. Yesterday I rode a local cycling club’s hilly time trial, over three nine-miles laps around Chobham, Surrey, in damp but pleasant conditions and turned in a respectable 1:13:19. Not having treated the event very seriously (I didn’t, for example, know the distance, apart from “shortish”, before setting off on the 20 minute ride from home) I was only haphazardly fed and watered and was riding on the fumes towards the end (but by no means desperate). I also, as a sporting gesture, rode without changing gears (it having been, officially, a single-speed event). As it happened, my choice of 50×16 (taken because that seemed about right and gives me a straight chainline) was as perfect as it could have been; I was out of the saddle but comfortable on a couple segments and spun-out on a couple descents, but only for short periods. I was also well-paced (hurting the last half-lap but not bogged down). So, all in all a good ride even though it’s not too hard to imagine having found the 20 secs that would have got me down into the one-twelves. I was first off and didn’t get passed, either, which is a personal milestone of some sort.

More gears or more breakfast, however, would not have got me anywhere near the winner’s short 1:07. Nor, I am quite confident, would better aerodynamics have much dented – if at all – that margin. That’s the money part.

My ordinary road racing bike, with the addition of a very tidy pair of clip-on extensions, does not at first glance compare to, say, the Specialized TT special I rode against (not unlike World Champion Tony Martin’s machine, pictured courtesy of his Omega-Pharma Quickstep team) , nor any of several other slippery-looking machines with deep-section TT wheels, etc etc. Have a look at, say, Mavic’s report on its triumph at the Kona Ironman and be truly disheartened, friends. How can one possibly compete with such technological wizardry when battling that great foe, the air? How can one hope to compete against rivals with wind tunnels and computational fluid dynamics, with nothing more than a 4mm allen key to lower the ‘bars a fraction?


Fortunately, I conclude it’s all to ride for. First of all, wind tunnel studies of bicycle aerodynamics are long on claims but short on replicable data, and I’ve yet to read of one that was blinded, so the researchers are quite likely to find what they believe they should find. Given that a lot of them are working for bicycle industry companies that want to sell us stuff, and make a lot of money doing it, we should be wary of their claims.

Consider, then, this very sketchy report from Bicycling magazine on work done by the cycling team guys at MIT. We don’t get any detail, but assuming that MIT students know what they are doing in a wind tunnel, and are doing it to help themselves go faster on a limited budget, this provides much to mull over.

It’s often said that the bike accounts for just 30% of the total rider-bike aerodynamic drag. MIT’s people reckon that it’s a quarter at best. So, broadly, they back up what cyclists all know – that lump on the saddle is what slows us down, and getting a bit lower on the handlebars makes a big difference.

They also note that a streamlined helmet is worth more than an aero front wheel. The rider’s head being a big leading edge, that makes sense. I particularly like their finding that moving the water bottle from the down-tube to the seat-tube cuts more drag than using an aero front wheel. Again, this backs up basic intuition, working on principle that the fat-at-the-front teardrop shape slips through the air easiest.

Look at it another way. If the bike is 25% of the drag, and you find a way to cut bike drag by 10% – which would be a lot – you’d cut overall drag by less than 3%. As drag rises with the cube of air speed, you’d go faster by the cube root of less than 3%, or just about 1%. If that sounds like a lot, or at least enough, consider that aero equipment is usually heavier than “standard” kit – big, airfoil-shaped tubes have more material in them than round-ish tubes, and narrow sections aren’t usually as structurally efficient. How much of that 1% do you lose, then, as soon as there’s a hill to climb?

At the extremes, there’s surely something to be gained from marginal aerodynamic improvements. At the recent Worlds in Florence, Bradley Wiggins beat Fabian Cancellara to the silver medal by 2 seconds, which is nothing out of some 4,000 seconds of racing. If Cancellara can find a tiny fraction in his bike for next time, or iron out a wrinkle in his skin suit, he should do it. But going a bit wide on a couple corners would just as easily have lost him 2s. Regardless, no mechanical help would have brought either of them within reach of winner Martin, who was some 40 seconds – a solid 1% – faster.

For all the rest of us, the lesson to take away casts a brutal light on our physical limits. That is, in short, that putting the rider in a skin suit and following the old time trialists’ advice of leaving your mitts at home and turning your cap round backwards is, more or less, as much as you can do. The rest comes down to power – which the bike industry can’t sell you.

Battle of Blenheim, 6 October 2013

Perhaps appropriately for this blog, here’s something about enough space to contain 13.1 miles, an hour and forty-four minutes of time and an as-yet undetermined amount of money. Running the British Heart Foundation’s half marathon at Blenheim Palace on Sunday was also good fun, hard work and, to a degree that may only become evident when time comes to run another half marathon, self-illuminating.


grounds, Blenheim Palace

As for good fun, how could it not be so? Fabulous autumn day and the sublime surrounds of Oxfordshire managed to English countryside perfection, not to mention several thousand fellow runners and well-wishers and really excellent organisation. And, free entry to the gardens with a cheap upgrade to a full-year pass to the Palace; my wife and I shall be going back.

[To digress (from what clear path? you might ask), I have to-date avoided big charity events, as I won’t be the next one going around the office hitting everybody up for donations to buy my way into a run or cycle ride. I suppose I might do the more honest thing and go around the office hitting everybody up for donations to a cause I really, really believed in, simply because it was a good cause – but not because I would get to run a race. I want to pay my money and tie my shoes, which the BHF seems to understand; raise money, please, they say, but £23 gets you to the starting line, no strings attached.*]

The hard work and self-illumination parts come from the fact that I’m not really a runner. I run enough to be able to do it, but I’m a road racing cyclist (and sometime cyclo-cross man, which means cross-country running while carrying a bike). Putting this in perspective is something I’m struggling with a bit, honestly. Two years back I was invited by the genuinely nice people at Dassault Aviation to join, in my capacity as an aerospace journalist, their company group running the 20km de Paris*. That’s just short of a half marathon (and a wildly fun course, start and finish at the Tour d’Eiffel with a good chunk of the Bois de Boulogne in between). I got myself reasonably trained up on a short 10k route from home and went for it – it being a distance I’d never come close to running in one go before. The racer in me started out too hard, and the last 18km, let me tell you, were hard. But I must have got off to a good start, as I managed 1:35 despite having had the second-worst imaginable pre-race dinner, of (a rather good Parisienne) cheeseburger and chips.

After that I did no running at all until early summer last year, when it occurred to me that my only chance to run my first-ever half marathon on my 50th birthday was fast approaching. As luck would have it, the Ryde Harriers Isle of Wight was on 19 August – a day late but close enough – and we had family reasons to be on the Isle of Wight. So, trained up enough I ran, after the worst-imaginable pre-race dinner, as it included wine. On a scorching day and a brutal course – either steep up or steep down – I got off to another really fast start and rapidly settled into a backwards flow (it could have been a hallucination, but I’m not sure I wasn’t passed by a one-legged old lady). Rapidly, I reached a point where I needed all my willpower to carry on, determined to finish. Stunningly, at the 6.5-mile mark the penny found the slot and I was off like a shot, running better than ever to a sprint finish. Given the dreadful start, I was pleased enough with my a 1:48, especially as a really fast-looking guy I was following off the line was only 10 minutes ahead.

So, to Blenheim. My training consisted of a couple months’ worth of 45-min Saturday runs and one to full distance. That’s not going to qualify me for the Olympics, but I did to everything else right: eating, drinking (not), sleeping, logistics. Add in a beautiful day and a fairly benign course, and I was gunning for sub-1:40.

As expected, my instincts to start fast and keep up with the leaders were strong, but I resisted and settled into a 7:30 mile pace. On the assumption that after a few miles I’d come to life properly and speed up, that felt ok – especially as I felt, well, ok. I kept on some pressure, and at just about 6.5 miles felt the juice kick in and sped up. Actually, a ra-ther attractive woman about half my age motored past with a fluid gait and my male and competitive (admit it, guys!) instincts kicked in and so I sped up and, literally and figuratively, put her behind me.

But at about 9 miles it all went wrong. Let’s say I began to feel some concern that there might not be any more course-side toilets, and while I’m at least as bold as Paula Radcliffe, there actually weren’t any bushes out there. So, despite good legs, good lungs and good-enough feet, finishing meant slowing down.

In a word, drat and 1:44 (and 32 sec). I am mature enough to shrug it off, but really, really, really think I should go quite a lot faster. And want to.

Which is, however self-critical I may be inclined to be, fair enough. There shall be more races, and I may even train a bit more for one of them.

But the reason I relate all this is that what has occurred to me in the subsequent couple days is that a few minutes is a lot. To average, say, 30 seconds a mile faster puts a big margin between two runners. To improve by that much will take work.

We all know that. What needs thinking about, though, isn’t how badly I want it (which is enough to work for it) or even whether it’s possible given the constraints of job and family (which are real, and I know that they limit the work I can do). It’s whether it’s even possible, which begs the whole question of the limits of one’s physiology and psychology.

Physiology poses real limits. Mo Farrah recently clocked 60 minutes and change in the Great North Run half marathon, and didn’t win. He is a much younger man and a real runner, not to mention a professional athlete who trains rather more than I do. But I know that were I to win the lottery tomorrow and buy myself time to train like Mo, I’d still never keep him in my sights. He’s faster.

I can live with that, of course. The psychology is another matter, though – what I can’t know is how much faster I can be. After all, improvement takes training, and it also takes the stars aligning. But if I believe anything, it’s that great competitors can, sometimes, win even when things don’t go well.

So was 1:44 a good time?


*Donations are most welcome – I’ve set up a BHF fundraising page. The Heart Foundation does great things, with our help, and deserves our support, however small it may be (and we are today, mostly, a bit skint and a lot appeal-weary – so, thank you).

*That chip you put on your shoes? In French it’s “la puce”: the flea.

iPhone mania: Can anybody tell me what’s wrong here?

Herewith 15-year-old Jesse Green (pictured in the Guardian by PA photographer John Stillwell) leaving the Apple store at Covent Garden on Friday. Young Jesse was, we are told, one of the first to depart the shop with a new model iPhone, the 5S; we are not told whether he was among the customers who had queued all week to buy one of these devices more or less the minute they went on sale. We are also not told whether or not the jubilant Apple store employees seeing him out the door are unnaturally happy because they genuinely share Jesse’s excitement, because jubilation is a term of their employment, or because they are sharing a commission from from the £549 Jesse left behind at the till.

Apple store, Covent Garden, 20 Sept 2013; new iPhones for sale, it seems (photo published in the Guardian - John Stillwell/PA)

Apple store, Covent Garden, 20 Sept 2013; new iPhones for sale, it seems (photo published in the Guardian – John Stillwell/PA)

At the risk of being a total spoilsport, what’s wrong here? This young man has not achieved something – got an A on his maths exam, won the county schools 1,500m title, had his novel published, turned the key and got vroom out of the motorcycle he had rebuilt, whatever – but he is celebrating as if he’d just won an Olympic medal. No doubt he is a fine young man, but he could be anybody. All he did was get there early enough to slap down a chunk of cash before a gadget sold out.
I cannot, sadly, claim to have not wasted much of my own precious youth on trivial pursuits. But while I would certainly have basked in a flash of kudos had I turned up one morning at Glendale High School with a wonderful gadget (or those Nike sneakers), the acclaim would have been short-lived and of little sustenance. And, I would have rapidly regretted spending such a sum (whatever that would have been in 1982, inflation-adjusted), which I would never have had in the first place. We, too, way back then in California, lived in a material world – but we just didn’t care anything like this much. Back then, an Apple would never have been able to build so much patently unfounded excitement about a mere product launch. That sort of jubilation was reserved for Moon landings, Superbowl victories or the fall of the Berlin Wall.
No doubt earlier generations looked at the things that got my peers and I wound up and shook their heads, too. We – or they – were not so pure of purpose, either. But, surely, we have all today lost the plot to a rather disturbing degree. After all, however wonderful the iPhone 5S may be, it is only a marginal improvement on what came before. It’s nice, sure – but it does not open new horizons of human capability, make the world a better place, or enhance anybody’s intellectual wellbeing.
Moreover, I cannot help but look at this picture and see a young man who, in the not very distant future, may come to wish he had not blown £549 on a soon-to-be-yesterday’s gadget – even if the financial world doesn’t implode into a really Great Recession (don’t get me started…).
As for the all the adults who queued to buy an iPhone, they are even harder to fathom; surely – surely – folks in their 20s, 30s, 40s etc are at least a little bit immune to peer pressure? Surely, they have worked it out by now that we are not defined by our purchases?
I hold out hope – but not too much.