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Let the chaos begin!

I’m currently at the XXVII General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Rio de Janeiro. For the next two weeks, astronomers from all around the globe will converge on the SulAmerica Convention Center.

I’m here to represent the USA in Special Session 2: The International Year of Astronomy. I have 12 minutes this afternoon to communicate all the IYA events in the USA, ranging from NASA events to Independent events to movie events, to everything else, including all of new media. In 12 minutes. I feel like I’m preparing as 12 course sampling menu, where no one item is enough to sate you, but taken together you feel a bit plump.

I arrived mid-day yesterday, and I have to admit that I’m still trying to process my impressions. Rio is a huge city! The population is 10 million. It is also a poor city. I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel in Cococabana. Along the way we through mile after mile of slums. I’d heard about the slums, but seeing them was a powerful things. There was a boy grazing a horse under a high way over pass, and a few minutes later I saw more horses grazing along a river covered in trash while kids played in a dusty lot between shambled buildings that often lacked roofs and windows.

This morning I learned that several of the male astronomers have already been mugged, at least one at gun point, within a block of the strip along which all our hotels are located. The message – Do Not Go Out After Dark – is being repeated over and over. But the meeting ends at 5:30pm and is set behind the mountains by 6pm. I think I just may be having dinner in my hotel room tonight.

But within the convention center, this is an astronomy conference like any other, just bigger. If anything, the population is younger than I’m used to (One senior astronomer quipped that most people her age probably opted to stay home and stay safe). There are row after row after row of posters, and room after room of parallel sessions. Talks are being given on every topic within astronomy, and representatives are here from all the space agencies, Astronomy Science Organizations (like NOAO and NRAO), and professional societies of the world. I’ve now heard 4 talks in 4 different accents (all talks are given in English). There are only 2 things marking the meeting as a bit different: There are seriously fewer laptops than I have seen in recent years (we were advised not to bring a computer unless we had to), and people not presenting are dressed very casually (T-shirts on tenured faculty! Again, we were recommended to dress down).

Throughout the week I’m going to try and blog and twitter highlights of the meeting. The rest of today and tomorrow morning is all IYA all the time. Then it will be science. And I’m going to try and bring as much of the science to you as I can. That said, I’m just one person and there is a lot going on. Want a fuller picture of what’s going on? Check out the full list of bloggers and twitters over on Orbiting Frog.

(Pictures will be added, so look back later)