Astrobites@Austin: Tuesday Morning Sessions

This year, Astrobites will be liveblogging AAS. In order to avoid inundating our readers’ RSS feeds, we’ll be updating this post with short paragraphs about the talks we’ve heard and posters we’ve seen. So keep checking back throughout Tuesday morning! If you missed them, here are the Monday morning sessions and the Monday afternoon sessions.


11:00 am – Poster Session

I stopped by the CARMA (Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy) booth, and spent some time talking with the other grad students and professors using observations with this telescope. The majority of my research right now deals with CARMA observations of molecular gas in star forming regions. I recommend, if you use data from a certain facility, spend some time at the relevant poster or booth, and make connections with others who use that facility. It’s useful to discuss methods and techniques, as well as new instrument development. For example, I met a graduate student who combines observations using interferometry and single dish data, exactly the technique that has been challenging me recently. Also, always be inquiring what will come next at the facilities you use — is a new instrument being deployed, or the instrument you used previously being updated so that you can make your observations that much better? Or, even better, think of what you need from the telescopes and instruments in order to do your science, and talk with others about how to develop the tools you need.


10:00-11:30am – Session 210. Education, Outreach and Citizen Science

Some great talks about various EPO projects! I didn’t catch all of them, but the ones in the middle discussed various aspects of a citizen science project called Citizen Sky, a project by the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) that has enlisted people to make observations about the variable star epsilon Aurigae. This project was somewhat unique in the world of citizen science because the goal was not just to obtain information on epsilon Aurigae, but also to direct the citizen scientists through a three-year process of data collection, data analysis, and eventual writing up and publishing of the science. Ryan Wyatt gave a talk on the making of the trailer advertising this project, which has been shown in planetaria to drum up interest. Aaron Price discussed how the attitudes of the participants in Citizen Sky changed after a year’s involvement (upshot: they exhibited a positive change in their science-news-gathering habits in life, and became less confident about their own science knowledge — not because they felt they became stupider, but due to increased awareness of how much they don’t know! Sound familiar?) Tim Slater then presented some results from a study of the astronomy knowledge of amateur astronomers, arriving at the unsurprising conclusion that amateur astronomers typically have an extremely high knowledge of astronomy even without formal academic training. He argued this can present an intimidating barrier for citizen scientists joining projects (such as Citizen Sky) run by amateur astronomers, due to the large knowledge gap between the organizers and the participants.


10:00 am – Session 212. Cosmic Microwave Background

This session included three talks by students in their final year of their PhD, which at the AAS merits a 15 minute talk + 5 minutes for questions, rather than the typical 5+5 minutes. Raul Monsalve (Univ of Miami), Immanuel Buder (Univ of Chicago), Sigurd Naess (Oslo Univ) teamed up for a total of an hour to present the calibration and data analysis for the QUIET experiment. The goal of QUIET is to measure the polarization of the CMB, observing at 94 GHz with a telescope in the Atacama Desert. The signal is small, so calibration is key, and this collaboration is setting new limits with the experiment. Look for more results to come from QUIET as these students finish their dissertations this year.


8:30am – HEAD Rossi Prize: Science with the Fermi LAT – Peter Michelson and Bill Atwood

This years’ HEAD Rossi Prize was awarded to Dr. Peter Michelson (Stanford University), Dr. Bill Atwood (UCSC) and the Fermi LAT collaboration. Dr. Atwood gave a talk titled The Fermi LAT: Optimizing and then Re-Optimizing the Science Return, in which he discussed the science that went into building the LAT — in particular the design decisions made for the detectors that have enabled flexibility beyond the initially planned mission. Dr. Michelson gave a talk titled “The Fermi Large Area Telescope at 3.5 Years: A Summary of What Has Been Learned About the High-Energy Sky,” a broad overview of the mission so far. The Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT) is a high-energy gamma-ray telescope that covers the energy range of 20 MeV to >300 GeV.  Dr. Michelson discussed some of the key discoveries of the LAT since Fermi’s launch in 2008, including the detection of 116 pulsating gamma-ray sources, the discovery of the flaring Crab Nebula, and extensive gamma-ray burst detections — some with higher energies than have ever before been observed. Goals for the future include identifying the >500 currently-unidentified sources that Fermi LAT has detected, and determining the origin of the LAT-observed isotropic gamma-ray background radiation.

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