In lieu of a banquet on the eve of the meeting’s final day, the AAS tried something different this time: a closing reception. It’s not clear whether Geoff Marcy (UC Berkeley) and Gina Brissenden (Univ. of Arizona) were particularly happy with the experiment or were simply looking forward to the unofficial “afterparty” that Gina and her colleagues organized later that evening at a local Irish pub and sports bar.
The Boston area is home to numerous astronomical institutions, and the press corps took field trips to several of them. Here reporters tour the Chandra Operations Control Center in Cambridge with Chandra X-ray Center manager Roger Brissenden (third from left).
At Wednesday morning’s news briefing, Farid Salama (NASA Ames) described new laboratory simulations of the interstellar medium, and Peter Foukal (Heliophysics) showed that the Sun may have dimmed a bit during the 17th century, partially accounting for the “Little Ice Age.” Karen Masters (Univ. of Portsmouth) unveiled the completed 2MASS redshift survey, and Bob Kirshner (CfA) recalled the late John Huchra’s seminal role in the project.
As usual, the meeting began with weekend workshops. In this one offered by the Center for Astronomy Education and the Collaboration of Astronomy Teaching Scholars, participants expressed a difference of opinion as to whether the correct answer to a question was A or B.
Lee Anne Willson (Iowa State Univ.) introduced Jeremy Drake (CfA), who gave an invited talk with the provocative title “Stars, Planets, and the Weather: If You Don’t Like It, Wait 5 Billion Years.” The weather was unseasonably cool and gray in Boston, but you only had to wait a few days for it to get warm and sunny — just as the meeting ended!
After being introduced by AAS deputy press officer Inge Heyer (Univ. of Wyoming), NRAO astronomers Rick Perley, Chris Carilli, and Ran Wang (also Univ. of Arizona) told reporters about early science results from the Expanded VLA, including Wang’s detection of molecular gas in a merging pair of quasars at a redshift of about 6.
Debra Fischer (Yale Univ.), whose involvement in the search for exoplanets goes back to some of the earliest discoveries, used her invited talk, “From Hot Jupiters to Habitable Planets,” to impress upon the audience how amazingly far we’ve come in the 16 short years since the first planet was found orbiting another Sun-like star.
Lecturing at the blackboard isn’t the only way to teach astronomy, thankfully. In a special session entitled “Astronomy Unexpected,” Mike Francis (Stars Science Theater) showed how he connects with students by appearing in the guise of Galileo Galilei. Courtesy Mark Zastrow (Boston Univ.).
The public thinks of Kepler as an exoplanet mission, but as Ron Gilliland (STScI) explained in his invited talk, the telescope is also revolutionizing our understanding of stars through its ultraprecise photometry. We can now say that if you look closely enough, it seems all stars are variable to at least some extent.
Noreen Grice (You Can Do Astronomy, LLC) hosted a press reception to announce the publication of her new book Everyone’s Universe: A Guide to Accessible Astronomy Places. With her is Ray Villard, news chief at STScI.
AAS president-elect David Helfand (Columbia Univ.) and current president Debbie Elmegreen (Vassar College) worked long hours in Boston, but, hey, even elected officials need a break now and then!
Social gatherings were held across the street from the Westin at the majestic Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel. Enjoying the K-12 educator reception on Sunday afternoon were George Papayannis (Fenway High School), Martha Wawro (NASA Goddard), Kate Youmans (MIT), and Andria Schwortz (Quinsigamond Community College).
Nick Kaiser (IfA) kicked off Tuesday’s program with an invited talk on the Pan-STARRS wide-field imaging survey, which has completed its first full scan of the sky north of declination –30° and is beginning to generate scientific results in areas as diverse as near-Earth asteroids and remote Type Ia supernovae.
Before giving his forward-looking Kavli lecture, “The 2050 Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics,” Malcolm Longair (Cambridge Univ.) was honored by Debbie Elmegreen with honorary membership in the AAS.
On Monday morning, in the first of the week’s six press conferences, reporters were briefed on the current status of the Kepler mission and learned of the discovery of exoplanet Kepler 10c by a new method that distinguishes genuine planetary transits from similar-looking signals caused by unresolved eclipsing binaries. Speakers included Dave Latham (CfA), Soren Meibom (CfA), Bill Borucki (NASA Ames), Francois Fressin (CfA), and Geoff Marcy (UC Berkeley).
AAS councilor James Lowenthal (Smith College) organized a special session on sustainability and astronomy. He and his panelists explored issues related to decreasing our profession’s environmental impact while simultaneously increasing our educational impact.
Laura Trouille (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison) chaired a special session on mentoring and networking for women and minorities. She said that the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy was very pleased to see the mix of men and women in the audience, but that “there's definitely work to be done in engaging more senior men in these discussions.”
The ornate ballroom of the Fairmont Copley Plaza offered astronomical ambience for the AAS opening reception on Sunday evening.
On Monday evening the press corps headed to the recently renovated Charles Hayden Planetarium at the Boston Museum of Science (MoS) to see its new projectors put through their paces. Inside the domed theater are Martin Ratcliffe (Sky-Skan), Dani LeBlanc (MoS), David Rabkin (MoS), AAS press officer Rick Fienberg, and Darryl Davis (MoS).
AAS treasurer Peter Stockman (STScI) announced at the members meeting that the Society was “in the black” for the second year in a row.
“Once & Future Supernovae” was the topic of Tuesday morning’s news briefing, which featured a debate about when Cas A exploded and a deep survey of the Carina “supernova factory” with the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Presenters were Junfeng Wang (CfA), Matt Povich (Penn State Univ.), Gisela Dreschhoff (Univ. of Kansas), Lila Rakoczy (Independent Scholar), and Leisa Townsley (Penn State Univ.).
At the undergraduate reception, AAS vice-president Lee Anne Willson (Iowa State Univ.) chatted with Chicago State University students Carmelita Camarillo, Virginia Hayes, and Melissa Nickerson. Later in the week Nickerson won a Chambliss student achievement medal for her poster on the effects of interactive tutorials and hands-on activities on students’ understanding of dark matter.
AAS president Debbie Elmegreen (Vassar College) welcomed students to the undergraduate orientation reception. Our meetings continue to attract large numbers of enthusiastic and capable college students, which bodes well for our field’s future.
During the welcome address on Monday morning, Debbie Elmegreen presented AAVSO director Arne Henden with a certificate congratulating the variable-star association on its 100th anniversary. AAVSO president Jaime Ruben Garcia looks on.
At a lunchtime NASA Town Hall on Monday, Astrophysics Division director Jon Morse described the agency’s current budget situation and future prospects in the context of the troubled economy and partisan political climate. On a graph of ongoing and forthcoming space-astronomy missions, the launch date for JWST was...shall we say...indeterminate.