Presidents Message – July 2001

Posted On July 1, 2001

Are we lucky or what? or... In search of speakers!

When I started to prepare my message for this month - I found myself reflecting over some astronomical activities that I have been involved with over the past few months. I cannot help but come to the conclusion that we are incredibly lucky to be situated in a place that seems overflowing with astronomical activities and goodies.

This last month I managed to tag along with Russell Sipe to the 198th American Astronomical Society meeting in Pasadena. The AAS meets twice a year - and is the place where many of the most important discoveries and developments are announced and discussed. Russell Sipe was attending the meeting as a member of the press - and I tagged along for the experience.

In order to gain entry to the event I had to sign in as the Guest/Spouse of Russ. This being California - I did not get any weird looks!

While I was there - I managed to go along with Russ to a press release session by the new director for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). Dr Jeremy Mould outlined their plans for the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope (a ground telescope with a 30 Meter or more aperture) and a very interesting Large Aperture Synoptic Survey Telescope. The LASST certainly caught my attention - when completed it promised to perform whole sky surveys within days. One of the challenges is in the analysis of the huge amounts of data amassed from this device each week. If you are familiar with the amount of data analyzed by the SETI project (which amounts to few Gigabytes per day) - the LASST promises to be amassing at least an order of magnitude greater - in the Terabytes.

Click for larger image
My other reason for going to the AAS was to visit their exhibition hall - where I thought I might be able to solicit a few new opportunities for speakers for our monthly meetings.

There were representatives from many of the companies involved with the biggest projects out there. I came away with many new contacts - and lots of information.

The Exhibition hall was also packed full of posters showing the detailed results that were being presented at the meeting. I thought you would like to see just one of the posters that really caught my eye!
I also attended for the first time the Openhouse at JPL. I have heard about this event for some years - but somehow never managed to fit it into my schedule. For a couple of days - the JPL opens it's doors to the public. This year they managed to get around 60,000 visitors.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer number and quality of the exhibits - which covered all of the aspects of work that JPL is involved with. This being my first time there - I learned a few things that will alter my visit next year. 1) bring a BIG bag for all the goodies and information you will be picking up 2) give yourself at least the WHOLE day - or maybe even two full days to experience everything. I only went for half a day - and I feel I barely touched the surface of everything that was available.

For me the thing I came away with most - was an appreciation for the people of JPL who are involved with all these projects. The projects themselves are of course astonishing but somehow it struck me that the most amazing thing about this event was that I managed to meet and talk with the actual people who are doing the work.

DR Thaller
During my trip around JPL I stumbled across a section called "Ask a scientist a question". DR Michelle Thaller, JPL Astronomer, Space Infrared Telescope Facility was answering any of the questions visitors had about Astronomy. I asked her an unusual question. I asked DR Thaller if she would be willing to speak at one of our meetings. I am pleased to report that we are finalizing the details for her talk at our August meeting. Look out for further details of the talk which will be related to Infrared Astronomy.

We are extremely fortunate to live in an area absolutely overflowing with astronomical events such as the ones I have described here. This also makes it so convenient to get the absolute best speakers for our monthly meetings. Below is a preview of what we have lined up up until November

July: DR Mark Colavita, the Keck Interferometer
August: DR Michelle Thaller (to be confirmed)
September: Our own Chris Butler - the conclusion of his tour of our corner of the galaxy
October: Leif Robinson (previous Editor-in-chief of Sky & Tel)
November: Ken Croswell - on his new book.

Are we lucky - or what!

Liam Kennedy
"every day we are connecting ever more photons of light from distant galaxies to the eyes, hearts, minds and imaginations of our members and others in our community."

UPDATE ON SURVEY: As of June 21st - we now have 225 responses. That is a much more respectable response than the 50 we had this time last month. Thankyou all!