AAS Wrap-up: Personal Perspective and the Big Stories

What a crazy ride!

I am finally recovered, mostly, from the big American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, DC, that occurred last week.  What a ride!

For me, the conference started off with a teaching workshop put on by the Center for Astronomy Education on interactive learning methods in “Astro 101.” As I start to sort through those notes, I’ll be able to write more about it. Suffice to say, it was wonderful to see that many interactive methods which were used in some of my favorite humanities classes are applicable to the large, lecture-hall-filling introductory astronomy classes.  Some of the exercises brought more questions out of me than they answered, but I have yet to even teach my first class… so time will tell.

The conference itself was just a whirlwind of activity. I made it to a number of the main talks, but very few of the small talks. I made it around to many, but not all, of the posters that I wanted to see.  A typical meeting has maybe a hundred posters each day, and maybe a dozen or so 5-minute talks going on at any one time.  You can’t do it all.  Walking around the poster session, I found myself having lengthy conversations with presenters or running into and having conversations with people on the floor at random. This is great for my research, for my education, and for networking, but absolutely terrible for keeping a schedule! But that is what made this conference great. Even at my own poster (the research one) I spent at least half an hour poring over the details with my collaborators, and we probably scared off at least one of the judges that was supposed to come by for the student competition. (Sorry!)

I also hardly slept. The conversations spilled out of the conference and around the dinner tables at nearby restaurants, then to the bars! I found myself out every night with such wonderful people, then had to drag my butt up to make the 8:30am talks. But who needs sleep when you are surrounded by so many great people?  I managed to work in some quality pub time with Phil Plait, a mini-reunion of 2004 Socorro summer students, a tweet-up with Pamela Gay and friends, a night of finishing the DSBK website while at the bar, and a particularly entertaining evening at the hotel bar with my friends and Neil deGrasse Tyson. And that was before the “real” party on Wednesday night which was, as the kids say, “off the hook.”

Check out my Flickr page for some visuals!

The Big Stories

Some of the big topics were already covered quite well by the science news sites and blogs, so I’ll do a quick roundup here before I delve into my own notes later.


The Kepler mission made a splash with its first science results.  With just a few weeks of preliminary data, the team has discovered 5 exoplanets, studied variable stars, detected weird planet-sized hot objects, and identified many candidate planets. Read up with Universe Today, Star Stryder, and Astroengine.

Magellanic Clouds

The Spitzer Space Telescope released a gorgeous image of starbirth in the Small Magellanic Cloud, as covered by Bad Astronomy. UVa’s David Nidever and Steve Majewski used the Green Bank Telescope to show that the streams of gas being pulled away from the Magellanic Clouds by the Milky Way are longer than was previously thought. Galactic cannibalism at it’s best can be found over at Universe Today.

Bolden’s NASA

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden made a big splash with his talk, which I missed, but I was able to catch up via Twitter. I can’t comment since I wasn’t there, but Phil Plait and Pamela Gay give excellent summaries and reactions. (My first response to Bolden’s call to get children to look through telescopes would be, look over here!)

Gravity Waves

NANOGrav, a method for detecting gravitational waves by timing millisecond pulsars (MSPs), got some good press that was picked up by Astroengine. I love seeing this story, but I’m biased since a) it involves radio telescopes and b) I know a few of the team members and they are super brilliant people. Although this particular collaboration is relatively new, these people have been crunching away on pulsar timing for years now and have been perfecting their techniques, just waiting for a great chance such as Fermi and its ability to detect new MSPs.

The stories don’t end there…

And there was so much more! I’m sure the upcoming Carnival of Space will include a smorgasbord of new discoveries that were announced at the AAS, and I’ll be following up with my own notes on topics that didn’t quite make it to press. Til then… cheers! To honor… 😉

Part of the 2004 Socorro Summer crowd, the coolest REU ever: Kirstin, Chun, me, Yancy, Kelley, and Ben.

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