Archive by category | American Astronomical Society

AAS 2009: An Australian Space Agency?

Dr. Penny Sackett began her term as Australia’s chief scientist in November 2008 — a government position akin to the presidential science adviser in the US — but still feels enough of an allegiance to the community from which she hails (astronomy) to come and give an invited talk at AAS on Tuesday. Towards the end of the talk, which was an overview of Australian science and its place in the world, she mentioned in passing that the government is considering establishing a national space agency. After the talk, I asked her about it, and she said that the government is expected to deliver a white paper on the subject early this year, which would be a first step towards any eventual parliamentary establishment. She said if it does happen, it would be an agency more so than a funding program.  Read more

AAS 2009: A century of night

AAS 2009: A century of night

Many AAS sessions here are emphasizing temporal astronomy — the idea that the heavens are by no means as static as was once thought. Two new projects, LSST and Pan-STARRS, will exploit wide fields of view and scan vast swaths of the sky night after night in the hopes of catching variable stars, supernovae, pulsars, even the occasional killer asteroid.  Read more

AAS 2009: Brown dwarfs ain’t so brown

AAS 2009: Brown dwarfs ain't so brown

Kenneth Brecher, an astrophysicist at Boston University, gave a funny little talk today called ‘How now brown cow dwarf’. The title of his talk, he says, is as meaningless as the term ‘brown dwarf’. It’s one of his many concerns with light perception at Project LITE, an umbrella for the psychophysical color experiements he runs.  Read more

AAS 2009: The blogiverse

Lots of press people in attendance, but I would venture to say that, given the economy in general and the layoffs that have gutted the media in particular, there are fewer now than in years before. There are more public affairs officers than there are reporters, and so far, I have not seen a single newspaper reporter. There aren’t too many live blogging the conference, either, as far as I can tell. Victoria Jaggard appears to be blogging a bit at National Geographic. And Wired science and Discover’s Phil Plait are both blogging from distance, tuning into the press conferences streamed here. Anyone else out there?  Read more

AAS 2009: Glowing graveyards

AAS 2009: Glowing graveyards

The glowing graveyard of rubble that surrounds some dying ‘white dwarf’ stars is providing astronomers with clues to the composition of rocky extrasolar planetary systems. By looking at the faintly glowing, shredded remnants of asteroids that surround distant white dwarfs, astronomers at the University of California at Los Angeles are finding that they have similar chemical compositions to rocky planets and asteroids closer to home – in the inner solar system. “We have a tool for measuring the bulk composition of the planets,” UCLA’s Michael Jura said at a AAS press conference on Monday. “It strengthens suspicions that Earth-like planets are common.”  … Read more

AAS 2009: Long Beach

AAS 2009: Long Beach

Welome to Long Beach, California for the 2009 conference of the American Astronomical Society. This means, at least for me, palm trees in January. They’ve also shipped in a container-load of astronomers, here in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, the site of one of the largest ports in the world. There are 2,450 registrants so far, according to AAS staff. It’s a beautiful day out there, but most of us are in the basement of the conference center listenting to AAS president John Huchra greet us.  Read more

AAS DPS 2008: Jogging the planets

AAS DPS 2008: Jogging the planets

If you didn’t realize it, Ithaca was a good place for DPS. Cornell put on a concert for the planets. The art museum has a special Saturn exhibit going. But one of my favorite things is down the hill from Cornell: the planet walk. Named in honor of Carl Sagan, the planet walk was unveiled in 1997, but has a slightly retro, 1970s feel to it. A little hokey, but endearingly earnest and fun nonetheless. You start at the heart of the Ithaca Commons, downtown, with a concrete monument to the sun, adorned with factoids. A circular hole within the monument sets the scale: that is the diameter of the sun, at one 5-billionth of its size.  Read more

AAS DPS 2008: Pluto

AAS DPS 2008: Pluto

They’re still arguing the ‘is Pluto a planet’ question. I’ve got to be honest: without much of a stake in the debate (i.e., not being a PI to an icy planet that became a dwarf one) I can’t muster that much energy for it. But I’d still be scared of arguing with Hal Levison, who spoke earlier this weekend at a special session on the question.  Read more

AAS DPS 2008: Methane monsoon

AAS DPS 2008: Methane monsoon

Lots of weather-related Titan talks at this DPS, and it’s no surprise, coming from a confluence of maturing Cassini science and an approaching equinox. Titan, which has a year of 30 Earth years, had its summer solstice in 2002. In the next couple years, its north pole will heat up (relatively speaking) as it emerges from winter, and the prevalent methane and ethane lakes will begin to evaporate as clouds form and carry moisture in a giant convective cell that stretches from pole to pole. Pictured here is a Cassini snap from February, with a streaky cloud visible near the north pole: an early sign of spring.  Read more