This is a crazy wonderful place. Over and over, Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ve heard people say this is the super bowl of astronomy. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m not so sure that is the truth. I feel more like this is the 3 (or 5 or 10) ring circus of astronomy. In every ring there is a new group doing their thing and playing to crowds. I sometimes feel that my attention is getting pulled in every direction as the biggest, the brightest, the shiniest, and the newest all juggle and flip to the music of the stars.
This is a place where the big teams present their big results. In fact, the COSMOS team presented dark matter and baryonic matter maps of the large-scale structure of the universe as a function of time. It was a truly tremendous result that Phil Plait wrote an excellent blog entry about at Bad Astronomy. I also caught a short interview with one of the team members, Richard Massey, which Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ll be incorporating into an Astronomy Cast episode in the next week or so. (As new results come out, Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ll be posting about them here.)
And everyone is here. This is the place where everyone presents a poster presentation or a 5-minute oral presentation on their latest results (Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ll have my name on two presentations, one on Dorrit Hoffleit, and one on online education). This is a place every student comes to try to schmooze their way into the next stage in their career, whether it be a summer internship, graduate school, or their very first post doc. In fact, this is the place any one in search of a job comes to try and schmooze their way into the next step of their career (including me!).
With such a large chunk of the astronomical community in one place, itâ€šÃ„Ã´s possible to inadvertently run into people whose names usually only exist in things you read. Last night I hung out with Carolyn Collins Peterson, Phil, and other science education folks. Carolyn blogged a bit about it over at the Space Writer Blog. Earlier today I saw Alan Boyle of the Cosmic Log and became a momentary fan chick, thanking him for doing so much to promote and help those of us little guys and gals doing independent blogs and podcasts. It seems every time I turn around there is a new neat person to listen to, learn from, and of course foist business cards on to and out of.
And there are moments of weirdness. This Conference is at The Washington State Convention and Trade Center, and side by side with our astronomer conference is the The Seattle Wedding Show. This means that at one point a bunch of us were going up the escalator in search of NASA schwag while a bunch of “bride to beâ€šÃ„Ã¹s were coming down the opposite elevator with wedding schwag. It also means that at one point during a press conference on the Andromeda Galaxyâ€šÃ„Ã´s extended halo, “Here Comes the Bride” could clearly be heard in the background.
And sometimes people watching (all “brides to be” aside) is just fun. There are at least 4 people (including me) with unnaturally red hair lurking the conference. And there are the normal freaks and geeks of the community, with their crazy hats, or crazy hair, or just crazy craziness. Anyone who thinks we are a straight-laced community doesnâ€šÃ„Ã´t know the right people. NASAâ€šÃ„Ã´s Jeffery Hayes was throwing around the world, occasionally hurling the Earth at unsuspecting souls (he claims women catch flying terra firma 80% of the time to menâ€šÃ„Ã´s 20% of the time). People generally flew around grabbing up satellite paper models, posters, the occasional project emblazoned jump drives, and gobs of pens like kids in a candy shop where everything is free. Sure, to look at us, itâ€šÃ„Ã´s a group of grey haired old men with a few women and flocks of undergraduates mixed in for flavoring, but all the flavoring is really spicy.
So, itâ€šÃ„Ã´s a circus, and I am one of the side show freaks, but Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m in good company. Maybe tomorrow Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ll catch a cool release from a data contortionist or have a chance to see the bearded satellite.