My view of AAS 220

I arrived back from the 220th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Sunday. The conference was held in Anchorage, Alaska. The picturesque and unusual setting probably contributed to the large attendance of 1200. Higher than most Summer AAS meetings. I had a very enjoyable week although as I was staffing the Kepler booth most of the time I only got to a handful of sessions.

My personal highlight was chairing my first session at a conference. It was a somewhat nerve wracking experience (far worse than giving a talk) because there is much to think about. I really hate being in meetings where the speakers don’t run to time and it is the job of the chair to avoid overrunning talks. I was relieved that no one went on too long although I did have to get on stage when one person was talking to encourage them to get to their summary slide. Aside from constantly checking the time I also had to think up a question to ask every speaker incase no one had one from the audience. Fortunately I had a reasonable knowledge of the subject matter for every talk and was able to ask good questions every time. I actually enjoyed the experience and hopefully will be asked to chair again.

There were only a couple of announcements from the Kepler team – Lars Buchhave announced that the metallicity of the host stars seems to play no role in the occurrence rate for small planets. This is the opposite of what we find for giant planets. One reason this is interesting is that is indicates that the number of small planets may be higher than previously suspected as they can form around almost any type of star. Or as Lars puts it (in a better way than me!)

“This study shows that small planets do not discriminate and form around stars with a wide range of heavy metal content, including stars with only 25 percent of the sun’s metallicity.”

The fourth circumbinary planet was announced by Jerry Orosz. These types of planets are starting to look pretty common and did not appear until now because they have longer orbital periods then standard planets. This is due to orbits close to the stellar pair being unstable.

A non-announcement but something that may be of interest is that we now have 13 viable Kepler planet candidates smaller than Mars. I mentioned this in my talk but given this was the morning after the party, the attendance was low and those who were there were looking a little worse for wear.

The social aspect of AAS meeting is usually the real highlight, both from the point of view of meeting collaborators to discuss science and a time to unwind and party. Anchorage did not disappoint. Given it did not get dark – ever – this should not be surprising. I was sampling the local beverages and culture until 3am or so most nights. However, it was the AAS party that again proved to be the most fun. As usual this was held in a local gay bar and involved both current and former AAS presidents throwing shapes on the dance floor. However, its probably best for my career that I don’t divulge some of the more debaucherous goings on!

Fortunately I did get to see some what Alaska is famous for – moose and glaciers. I spent a wonderful day with a couple of locals who showed me some spectacular sights. I particularly enjoyed the town of Wittier, a place only accessible via a train tunnel which cars can drive along when no train in coming.

All in all a fantastic week, bring on AAS 221 in Long Beach, California!

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