Top Story: January 11, 2013

Hacking Astronomy

Screen shot 2013-01-11 at 2.47.38 PM

Ryan Wyatt, Director of Morrison Planetarium and Science Visualization, reporting from the fourth and final day of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in Long Beach, California…

The AAS meeting runs from Sunday evening through Thursday, and many astronomers start to trail off on the last day. (Some might claim it has something to do with the annual party held the night before, but the attendance trailed off on Thursdays long before the party got started.) On the last day of this year’s meeting, however, dozens of astronomers gathered for the first-ever AAS hack day. The idea sprang from the .Astronomy (pronounced “dot astronomy”) conferences that have occurred over the last several years—and something akin to the first regional .Astronomy Hack Day held in New York City last December.

The basic idea: lock a bunch of astronomers in a room with laptops and mobile devices and access to the Internet, have them share ideas for small-scales projects, and see what happens. The day started with “lightning talk” sales pitches that various people gave for their ideas—everything from creating a 3D movie of images from the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars to creating client libraries for the new ADS API (I won’t even try explaining that).

You can monitor some of the discussion on Twitter using the #hackAAS hashtag, but at least a few tangible results have already come of it. That movie of 3D stills from Mars got made, and you can watch it on YouTube! Another group of hackers created AstroGov, a “tool to track legislation that affects astronomers and space scientists.” (What may perhaps be considered a cross between those two concepts, a team also started work on a video for “Fund Me Maybe,” a rewrite of the Carly Rae Jepsen song with a focus on the travails of getting grant support for astronomical research; co-author Emily Rice will probably tweet about it when it’s finished.) Other results will get incorporated into future releases of WorldWide Telescope from Microsoft Research.

I hope you enjoyed the blast of astronomy stories from this week! We shall return to a more diverse set of stories next week…

Addendum: For a summary of the event from its organizer, take a look here.

Still from Cruising on Mars in 3D

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