In The Field

AAS 2009: Pulsars spinning, on the dance floor

galileo.jpg“Do you realize that we are up to our 11th year of parties?” says Gina Brissenden, who was hemmed within a scrum of astronomers on the patio, but utterly pleased about it. Hundreds of astronomers had turned out to the Rhythm Lounge in Long Beach, and were rapidly starting to get their groove on (aided and abetted by the ‘Galileo 400’ drink special). What began as an impromptu afterparty in a hotel room, organized by Gina, has since turned into a biannual bacchanalia for the young, the old; for those inclined to dance, and for those who you wish weren’t so inclined.

Above the dance floor, an endless short film loop was projected — about the discovery of the period-luminosity function for Cepheid variables. I was pretty sure that it was entirely incidental, however, when the DJ played the Beastie Boys song, “Intergalactic.”

They didn’t need any help on the dance floor anyway. Astronomers are an interesting bunch. Individualists, each and every one of them, but as a fellow observer remarked to me: she had never seen a pack of people devote themselves so quickly and diligently to the collective task of getting down. The dance floor was a black hole, and at one point, there were demands that astronaut John Grunsfeld occupy its singularity (that he might be more concerned about fixing the Hubble space telescope was not an issue). “I heard there were astronomers in the house,” says Kevin Marvel, AAS executive officer, revving up the crowd from the DJ booth. With just a hint of cautionary worry, he implores them: “Don’t go supernova.”

Allright folks, it’s been a pleasure, and it’s time for me to catch a plane back to Washington, DC. And in case you were wondering what’s in a ‘Galileo 400’, it’s vodka, peach schnapps, and Sprite.


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