The 217th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) concludes today in Seattle, Washington. The conference’s posters and presentations focused on the largest objects imaginable – planets, stars, galaxies, the universe – and researchers presented fascinating news about rocky exoplanets, surprise black holes, enormous sky photos, and cosmic lensing. But in the midst of everything, there were also some smaller moments reflecting the fact that astronomy is an altogether down-to-Earth and very human activity.
1. Scientists had to queue up and redeem “coffee coupons” to get their morning cup of joe. The limited number of tickets for each attendee seemed a questionable way to cut costs – particularly in a city renowned for coffee.
2. This sign, next to a poster in the main hall, displays a great way to be available, but not too available.
3. Woe to those astronomers with school-age daughters who didn’t bring some of these home! “Silly Bandz” representing space-based telescopes past and future: Hubble, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), and the International X-ray Observatory (IXO).
4. Official abstracts are a great way to communicate with other members of your team.
5. Who says that science and religion don’t mix?
6. Like every other state this week except Florida, Washington got some snowfall. Though Seattle experienced a light dusting, the weather caused flight delays and travel changes for some attendees. At least the conference wasn’t in Boston – the location of the 218th AAS meeting – which saw close to half a metre of snow fall this week. (Wisely, the Boston gathering is set for late May.)