Friday, January 27, 2012

AAS 219 - Day 1

Before I get too far away from the actual event, I thought I would write up my experiences at this year's AAS meeting, the first I had fully attended since the late 1990s.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting returned to Austin earlier this month and I was able to volunteer for free registration. Because I fall in to a weird gray area in the astronomy profession (undergraduate degree and 15+ years employment in the field, but no PhD) I haven't been a member of the organization and even with membership the meeting costs are high. (They now have an educational affiliate membership category that I qualify for and I'm planning to join under it soon.) So working at the meeting seemed the best way to get a chance to attend. The trade-off is, of course, that I would have to work some sessions that I might not really be interested in and might miss some that I was. But given the way these conferences are scheduled it's pretty hard for everyone to get to everything they want to, so I would have missed stuff no matter what.

On Sunday I had to attend the mandatory orientation session, which was actually a good thing since it meant that I would already be around for the "Transit of Venus" special session put on by the Historical Astronomy Division of the AAS. Part of my reason in attending was just out of interest - I love history of science topics - but also for ideas in how to do our public outreach events for this year's transit. As exhausting as the 2003 close approach of Mars events were, I'm glad for the experience heading into this June's transit. Part of the popularity of the Mars event was the large amounts of press coverage stressing the "rarity" of the event. I'm putting "rarity" in quotes for the Mars closest approach because while *technically* Mars would never be that close again in our lifetimes, it will get nearly as close in 2035, still quite within the lifetimes of people who saw it in 2003. But, in the case of the transit of Venus across the sun, it's a pretty fair bet that anyone alive now will not get the chance to see it again since the next won't be for another 105 years. Although I don't want to make any predictions about advances in medicine, so who really knows for sure. But it's pretty safe to say that most people alive now will not get another shot.

Three of the talks were mostly about the history of the transits in 1639, 1761, 1769, 1874 and 1882, but the final talk was an overview of outreach activities for the 2004 transit and what is already underway in planning for this year's. I got several good ideas out of the presentation, so now I just need to start the actual planning!

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