SAS Symposium 2011

I spent most of last week in Big Bear Lake, California at the Society of Astronomical Sciences 30th Annual Symposium on Telescope Science. I had a great time and I learned a lot. Despite it's name, the symposium had relatively little to do with "telescope science" per se and a lot to do with astronomical science.

If you are an astronomer ("amateur" or otherwise) interested in using your skills for scientific study this conference has a lot to recommend it:

  • The location is wonderful. Big Bear Lake is located in the beautiful mountains of Southern California at an altitude of about 6,750 ft (2,060m). The conference venue was the Northwoods Resort which seemed quite nice to me.
  • The conference provides great opportunities to meet interesting people. The conference is small – normally about 100-150 people – and everyone is very accessible. It's easy to spend time with the speakers, vendors and other attendees. Here are a couple examples: on Tuesday morning I had breakfast with Olivier Thizy co-owner of Shelyak Instruments, his son Luc and Richard Berry co-author of "The Handbook of Astronomical Image Processing" as well as numerous other books and on Thursday I had lunch with volunteer astronomer Michael Koop and Peter Jenniskens (SETI Institute) the keynote speaker at Thursday night's dinner and the co-leader of the team that recovered meteorites from asteroid 2008 TC 3.
  • The workshops and sessions were uniformly excellent. Some of the presentations were given by amateur or "volunteer" astronomers and some were given by professional astronomers. Clearly, all of the speakers had put a lot of work into their presentations and they all did a tremendous job.

Workshop attendance was separate from the main conference and cost an additional $50 per workshop. I went to both workshops. The first one was titled "Remote/Robotic Observatory Workshop" and was presented by volunteer astronomer Tom Krajci of the Astrokolkhoz Observatory and volunteer astronomer Tom Smith of the Dark Ridge Observatory. I am planning on having my own remote/robotic observatory and this workshop gave me a lot of good ideas along with real-world advice and recommendations. The second workshop was titled "Hands-On Analysis of Eclipsing Binary Light Curves" and was presented by Dirk Terrell who is an astrophysicist at the Southwest Research Institute's Department of Space Studies in Boulder, Colorado. As the title says, this was a hands-on workshop. We used software called PHOEBE which is based on the Wilson-Devinney (WD) code used by most professionals in this field. I had a great time.

The paper presentations (ie sessions) covered a wide range of topics including: ultra-deep imaging, an alternative to the Hubble Palette which would create more realistic images, a new standardized format for reporting asteroid lightcurve data, remote/robotic telescopes, the design of a wide field Cassegrain, a new Sky Brightness Data Archive, the construction of a high resolution Littrow spectrograph for Be star analysis, visual binary star observations as a special project for a mathematics class at Estrella Mountain Community College, research options with point-and-shoot cameras, finding targets of opportunity (ie transient events), determining the proper motion and parallax of Barnard's Star using differential astrometry, using the Silicon Photomultiplier for high speed photometry, using light curves from the Kepler Mission to identify variable stars in the field surrounding EV Lyr, polarimetric observations of Epsilon Aurigae, using the methods available to Tycho in the 16th century to measure the distance to the moon and asteroids as a high school science project, flat field calibrations for the AAVSO Photometric All Sky Survey, an alternative approach for finding and applying extinction-corrected magnitude transformations, amateur exoplanet milestones, radar observations of asteroids, pro/am spectroscopy collaborations and a summary of current and planned operations for the Catalina Sky Survey. You can find and download pdf versions of the proceedings of this year's conference (and prior years) by using this link.

If you are interested in astronomical sciences and you would like the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people and learn a lot then I would highly recommend adding this conference to your "to do" list in 2012. You won't be sorry.

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