AAS Boston! #aas218

The empty press office at #aas218.

Blogging at you live from the American Astronomical Society’s summer meeting in Boston!

AAS is the main scientific body for astronomers in the US, and as such, it’s one of the biggest in the world. It hosts conferences twice a year, a summer and a winter meeting. The winter meeting is by far the larger of the two—about 3000 astronomers show up; considering that there are only about 10,000 professional astronomers in the worldwide community, the winter meeting is one of—if not the—biggest news cycles for astronomy of the entire year. Some of the highest profile science results are announced there—such as the Kepler Mission’s finding of 54 habitable zone exoplanet candidates this past winter in Seattle.

The summer meeting is a bit smaller; I heard someone mention that registration numbered about 1300. Still, it’s a major event, a flat-out, balls to the wall extravaganza of science, talks, posters, and schmoozing. I’ve never been to one before, but it’s exhilarating (and already a bit exhausting). And conveniently for me, this year the meeting is in Boston, at the Westin hotel in Copley Square, just a 20 minute T ride from my apartment in Brookline.

I opted to skip the registration fee and instead volunteer for my admission. Not only am I some hundred bucks the richer, but this allowed me the opportunity to work in the press office, and rub shoulders with some of the writers and science communicators I most admire.

Today is the first day of regular proceedings, and as I write this, the press office is buzzing, man. People are hunched over MacBooks (and a PC notebook or two—but mostly MacBooks), gulping down the free coffee, and exchanging tips—which sessions to go to, which ones to avoid.

The big event of the morning is the Kepler press conference at 10 am, where they’ll give an update on their findings. They’re not expected to shatter the earth with any announcements about new exoplanets as they did in Seattle; the next batch of them won’t be detected or announced for another year or so. Rather, they will probably announce some of the results of the data analysis of the existing planet candidates. But even this is highly anticipated. (Last night, I was—kindly—kicked out of the press office so the Kepler team could rehearse the proceedings.) As an indicator of its high-profile nature, theirs is the only press conference not being held in the small press room on the 7th floor—it’s been moved down to the 3rd floor in a larger room by the main proceedings. Despite the press conferences not being published on the official schedule, word has spread over Twitter and I’m sure the place will be packed.

Me, I haven’t been to a conference trade show expo thingy like this since I went to the EAA Oshkosh airshow in high school. I feel like a kid in a—well, an astronomy conference.

More to follow.

PS: I’ll be tweeting throughout the conference under the handle @alshain and the #aas218 hashtag.

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