Astronomy organization holds meeting in Anchorage Brian R. Page – Dome of the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Mt. Palomar. - Photo by Brian Page Full view

Astronomy organization holds meeting in Anchorage

Photo by Brian Page

Anchorage is receiving a rare visit the week of Saturday, June 9 through Thursday, June 14: over 1,000 astronomers from around the country will be congregating in the city for the 220th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the organization for professional astronomers in the U.S.

Founded in 1899, the society’s mission is to archive and circulate the results of astronomical research through the publications of its scientific journals, to support and mentor the next generation of astronomers, organize meetings to support and strengthen its members’ interactions with one another, help its members develop skills within their respective areas of expertise and work with other scientific organizations to promote the advancement of science. The organization’s journals include “The Astronomical Journal,” “Astronomy Education Review” and “The Astrophysical Journal.” The AAS also puts out the “BAAS” (Bulletin of the AAS).

There are several qualifications that must be met for AAS membership. It is possible to become a member if one is still a student, however.

“You can become a member as a student — either as an undergrad or graduate student — as a junior member, which has lower rates than a regular member,” said Rick Fienberg, AAS’s Press Officer. “Basically, as long as you can demonstrate that you are studying astronomy or astrophysics and can get a faculty member at you school to endorse your application, you can become a member of the society. If you haven’t joined yet and you’re a professional astronomer, you have to have the endorsement of two other members to become a member.”

The AAS meets twice a year in different parts of the country to present and discuss discoveries and progressing work in the various areas of astronomy, as well as to socialize with colleagues.

“I know a lot of people through these meetings,” said UAA astronomy professor Travis Rector, who has been a member of the AAS for the past 20 years. Rector has attended nearly 30 meetings since becoming a member of the organization.

Organization meetings are often planned up to six years ahead of time, and this summer marks the second time the AAS has met in Alaska — the first time being the 114th meeting in July of 1963. Rector, whose area of expertise is active galaxies, initiated the proposal for this meeting six years ago; the meeting was finalized two years later.

“There was initial concern about the higher airfares … so we did a cost analysis to determine if it would still be worthwhile based on if the higher airfares would be offset by the lower hotel and conference center costs,” he said. “We then approached the AAS counsel, who approved it in 2008.”

The Anchorage meeting is also special because there will be a series of free public talks and presentations for non-members to participate in. According to current AAS Vice President Lee Anne Willson, this doesn’t happen at every meeting.

“We don’t always have public talks, but when something comes up that looks like it would make a good public talk, then we try to go ahead and do that,” she said. “Nobel Prizes tend to make good topics.”

One of the two public talks in Anchorage will be given by Brian P. Schmidt, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, regarding the expansion of the universe. Coincidentally, Schmidt, who currently works at the Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Australia, graduated high school from Bartlett High, right here in Anchorage. He was unable to be reached for comment.

Rector is looking forward to Schmidt’s presentation, and urges anyone who is interested in astronomy to come to AAS’s public events and talk to the presenters.

“I think that having 1,000 astronomers in Anchorage at one time is a once in a lifetime kind of thing…So if anyone’s interested in astronomy, they should definitely take advantage of this unique opportunity.”

For a full list of public events during the AAS meeting, go to:

Written by Heather Hamilton

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