Coordination Unit 5 - a human story


Picture taken at the Coordination Unit 5 meeting as held in the summer 2020. Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC


This year has been strange and stressful for many reasons, both inside and outside Gaia and science. With the release of Gaia EDR3 occurring in 2020, we were expecting the usual amount of stress from the completion of the photometric processing, followed by the rounding-off tasks such as validation, documentation and writing the papers that accompany the data release. What we had not expected was a pandemic that would severely affect all of our lives.

In March, when all this kicked off, we were looking forward to attending an all-DPAC meeting in Heidelberg, always eagerly anticipated since we get a chance to hear details from other parts of the Gaia family less familiar to us - a good opportunity to start off side projects and collaborations. (Good beer also helps.) Unfortunately, the beginnings of the Covid-19 pandemic had already started and the week-long meeting had to be cancelled and replaced by a week-long Zoom meeting. (With no beer!) This set the pattern. We have now all become experts in Zoom/WebEx/Teams telecons and regularly cry "You're on mute!” as well as experimenting with dodgy backgrounds, and increasing wildness of hair styles.

Once the full lockdown occurred, other issues affected us apart from the travel embargo. Those with families had caring responsibilities that often interrupted standard work schedules so suddenly, flexibility had to be introduced into working life. After the children had been tucked up in bed, the laptops would invariably come out again, and the working day continued. Of course, the opposite was true for those who lived by themselves where loneliness was an issue. Here Zoom helped a lot and quiz sessions became very popular along with virtually visiting friends for a drink. (These isolated people can be easy to spot: they will be the ones wanting work telecons to last longer and also wanting to have the video camera on.)

Over the summer, we were supposed to have the CU5 plenary meeting in Cambridge and again, this had to be converted into a long Zoom meeting. It is usual for group pictures to be taken at such meetings, so this time it became a gallery-view screen capture with all attendees turning cameras on for a short time. Some did not have cameras, so had their blank screens replaced… There is also a long tradition in CU5 of having a guest appearance from a rabbit. The first time this was photoshopped into the picture, we’d done such a good job that someone remarked “I didn't see that rabbit in front of us when you took the picture!”. While in another, it was not noticed either that one person had been photo-shopped in three times: so much for trained observers!



Group meeting of  Coordination Unit 5 featuring Gaia DPAC members and a black rabbit. Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC


It looks as if things will be better next year as vaccination programmes get rolled out and life returns to some version of ‘normal’. But having to work in a different way has had benefits as well as drawbacks and as 2020 draws to a close and we look forward, things can be expected to be different to pre-pandemic days - probably with less travelling, with all that means for the future of the planet and our resources, and more working from home. What the holidays will be like is anyone’s guess, but whatever you end up doing, we hope that you enjoy the time and that you and yours stay safe and well.


Published: 3 December 2020 - Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC - The CU5 family



We would like to thank all Gaia DPAC members for their dedication and the enthusiam they put in their work for the Gaia Mission. Without them, we could not produce these Gaia catalogues.  A big thanks to all Gaia DPAC teams across Europe and beyond.

​​​​​​​The Gaia Collaboration