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Kevin B. Marvel
Executive Officer
American Astronomical Society

I’m back!

As of 1 January 2014, I returned to the AAS Executive Office and took up full-time duties again after my brief sabbatical. I know it was brief because people were asking me about how I was enjoying being on sabbatical even though I was back at work already. Because things were working so well, they didn’t even know I was away!

I used my time well, had a few setbacks (like getting robbed), and am very glad I took the time to reconnect with the discipline I love so much. In addition to time spent writing and doing research for a book, I got to teach again, which was great fun. Many thanks to Buell Jannuzi for allowing me to teach a science-policy class at the University of Arizona, and special thanks to the students for taking the course. We all learned a lot, and it was a great experience for me personally. I relearned that teaching well takes a lot of preparation and dedication and that those who teach regularly, however large or small their courses, are real heroes. Thanks also to the management department at New Mexico State University for letting me teach a short course in non-profit management; it was great to take my practical learning into the classroom and share what I know with engaged students seeking to work in the non-profit sector.

Landing back in the DC office was a bit like getting blasted by a water cannon, and I’m still getting used to once again having my calendar solidly blocked out two months in advance. The AAS staff did an excellent job holding down the fort and also accomplished some significant milestones while I was away, culminating with the excellent winter meeting in DC.

Our Executive Office motto for 2014 is “Working smarter to achieve our mission.” More than a mere “Dilbertism,” this short phrase represents a mindset and approach to our daily duties that is absolutely required for continued success. We have a fully staffed team for the first time in a few years and have all our responsibilities covered with highly engaged people who are dedicated to their work on behalf of our members. However, we’ve been growing and evolving what we do at a steady clip for a number of years, and it is now time to solidify our gains by regularizing and systematizing our internal processes, with an eye toward efficiency and practicality — we simply need to work smarter. Staff members who generate a significant enhancement to some aspect of our regular work will receive a small “Brainy Bucks” award. This token for creative engagement in our office will, I am sure, help stimulate many more good ideas and enhancements that will benefit our membership and our organization.

We have begun significant planning now for the 29th IAU General Assembly, which will be held in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the first two weeks of August 2015. To help highlight the importance of the meeting and to encourage US astronomers to attend the General Assembly, the AAS Council has decided not to hold our normal summer meeting in 2015. By law we must hold a “members’ meeting” so that our newly elected officers and councilors can take up their duties, and we will hold a small gathering at the General Assembly to fulfill this legal obligation. The US National Committee (USNC), our adhering body to the IAU, has agreed to provide advice to the AAS as we organize the logistics for the General Assembly, while the IAU General Secretary, Thierry Montmerle, is working closely with us on the scientific program and other aspects of meeting organization. He was kind enough to visit the US to attend the winter meeting in DC and was impressed with the scale and organizational excellence of our conference. We will bring the same excellent service to the General Assembly in Hawaii and are looking forward to the busy months ahead. Start planning now to attend — we want a strong US presence at this important conference, last held in the US more than 25 years ago (Baltimore, Maryland, August 1988).

A note on IAU membership: although you do not have to be an IAU member to attend the General Assembly, membership is required to participate in other aspects of the IAU. The USNC is responsible for receiving and vetting applications for IAU membership from US-based astronomers. Details on the application process, application forms, and related information will be made available this fall, and when it is, announcements will be broadcast via the AAS email list, AAS website, and USNC-IAU website. Applications are not being accepted right now, and there is no advantage in rushing to turning them in early in any case — all applications are reviewed together after the deadline for receiving them passes.

I’m also really excited about the newly formed AAS Agents program, the brainchild of our current president, David Helfand. He’s managed to recruit a core group of very enthusiastic and engaged astronomers who will be both gathering information from and disseminating it to astronomers in departments or institutions across the US. The Council and officers and all of our engaged volunteers know the value that the AAS brings to our profession, and the Agents will help us ensure that this value is directly communicated to researchers, while gathering ideas and input to help improve what we do. I think this will be a great program and want to thank all the people who have volunteered to be agents already and to pre-thank those who will volunteer to serve in the coming months: Thank you!

I’m very glad to be back in the daily grind. It is hard to describe how much enjoyment I get by serving my profession in my current role. Although it was good to “get out into the field” to experience astronomy again in a very direct way in a university department, it is also deeply fulfilling to be once again working with the dynamic group of people who make up the AAS staff, our leadership, and volunteers. So, thanks to the Council and to the AAS staff for allowing me this short break. It’s good to be back!

G. Fritz Benedict
AAS Secretary
Univ. of Texas, Austin

Voting in the AAS election of officers and councilors for terms beginning in 2014 closed on 31 January. Of the 7,124 members eligible to cast ballots, 1,016 members (14.3%) voted. If you’re in that group, thank you! If you’re not, we hope you’ll exercise your right to vote in future elections. Our officers and councilors help decide the Society's direction and goals. The best way to ensure that your voice is heard is to participate in Society elections.

Here are this year’s winners; all will take office in June at the 224th AAS meeting in Boston, except for the newly elected member of the Nominating Committee, whose term begins immediately:


  • Jack Burns


  • Nancy D. Morrison


  • Kelly Holley-Bockelmann
  • Buell T. Jannuzi
  • Stephen Unwin

Nominating Committee

  • Nicole S. van der Bliek

US National Committee − International Astronomical Union

  • David R. Soderblom

We are grateful to all the AAS members who agreed to stand for election, and we congratulate our new officers and councilors and look forward to benefiting from their wisdom and energy in the years ahead!

Gina Brissenden
Education & Outreach Coordinator
American Astronomical Society

The latest Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Awards competition, which occurred at the 223rd AAS meeting in Washington, DC, earlier this month, was a record-setting event. Nearly 450 student poster authors entered the competition, of which two-thirds were undergraduates, and there were approximately 250 judges! Student posters were evaluated during the morning coffee breaks and afternoon poster sessions all four days of the meeting, not just Monday through Wednesday as in the past, partly because of the record number of posters and partly because of changes in the way posters are being scheduled into science sessions.

As a result of the longer competition, not all judges' scores were in hand by the end of the meeting, and we couldn't announce the winners before everyone went home. The last of the outstanding scores have now come in, and — at last — we have our winners:

Graduate Student Medal Winners

  • Eduardo Banados (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy)
  • Kevin Cooke (Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • Laura Mayorga (New Mexico State University)
  • Dylan Morgan (Boston University)
  • Christina Peters (Drexel University)
  • Greg Salvesen (University of Colorado, Boulder)

Graduate Student Honorable Mentions

  • William Best (University of Hawaii)
  • Marta Bryan (California Institute of Technology)
  • Seth Cohen (Dartmouth College)
  • Gregory Green (Harvard University)
  • Christopher Griffith (Pennsylvania State University)
  • Alex Hagen (Pennsylvania State University)
  • Brandon Patel (Rutgers University)
  • Dominic Pesce (Harvard University)
  • Valerie Rapson (Rochester Institute of Technology)

Undergraduate Medal Winners

  • Benjamin Cook (Princeton University)
  • Ying Feng (Pennsylvania State University)
  • Cole Johnston (Villanova University)
  • Emil Khabiboulline (California Institute of Technology)
  • Diana Powell (Harvard University)
  • Emily Sandford (Yale University)

Undergraduate Honorable Mentions

  • Juliette Becker (California Institute of Technology)
  • Kelly Blumenthal (Boston University)
  • Eda Gjergo (Illinois Institute of Technology)
  • Kirsten Hall (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
  • Anna Ho (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Laura Kulowski (Brown University)
  • Allison McGraw (University of Arizona)
  • Rachel Salmon (University of Scranton)
  • Rachel Smullen (University of Wyoming)
  • Josh Speagle (Harvard University)

Congratulations, all! On behalf of our Society and all of the students who entered the AAS 223 Chambliss competition, I would like to thank our volunteer judges, with a special thanks to those who volunteered onsite to replace judges who got stuck at home due to the bad weather that hit the DC area. I would also like to thank the AAS Executive Office staff who help to make this very important competition such a big success.

Joshua H. Shiode
John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
American Astronomical Society

Last Thursday (6 February 2014), I walked around Capitol Hill delivering a letter from our President, David Helfand, to the leadership of the Appropriations subcommittees with jurisdiction over NASA, NSF, and the Department of Energy (DOE)—the three agencies that collectively provide most of the federal support for the astronomical sciences. The letter thanks those members of Congress, in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle, for providing the strong support we saw in the final FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill.

As I detailed a couple posts ago, the final appropriations bill hit more high notes than low, especially for NASA and the DOE's Office of Science (where the Cosmic Frontier program is funded). This was not an obvious outcome following the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which provided relief from about half of the sequester cuts in FY 2014—an increase of about $45B in available funds for all discretionary programs. Both NASA and DOE's Office of Science beat that half-sequester benchmark. And while NSF's Research and Related Activities did not quite reach that level, the account still saw about a 5% increase over FY 2013. These increases were the result of tough choices on the part of lawmakers on the appropriations committees, and that is why we decided to say "thank you."

Now it is our job in the astronomical science community to show what we can do with these resources. Our job is to make exciting new discoveries, develop new technologies as we strive to answer interesting questions, and help a new generation develop the analytical thinking skills that will breed success. Stars explode, extraterrestrial storms swirl in unexpected shapes, rovers on Mars go surfing over sand dunes, and the Sun lofts massive ejections out into the solar system — and we continue striving to understand it all.

I know this may come off as a naively positive post, but I think it's important that we keep our gaze focused on our exciting goals and communicate them far and wide. Talk to people on planes as you travel to conferences (or home to visit family), visit with a school classroom, ride on a science train (or start one!), and maybe even come to Washington and talk to a Congressional staffer or three. Bring it home for them. Why is what we're doing so important? So exciting!? This is our task. So let's get to it!

Greg Schwarz
AAS Journals Date Editor
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

The 23rd Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems (ADASS) meeting took place in Waikoloa, Hawaii, from 30 September through 3 October 2013. At ADASS conferences astronomers and engineers discuss "the acquisition, reduction, analysis, and dissemination of astronomical data." As the AAS journals' data editor I can speak toward the dissemination portion of that mandate. Here I'll summarize the talk I gave at the ADASS meeting regarding the AAS journals' current and future data-publication plans; see also my PowerPoint presentation (3.5-megabyte PDF).

Before I discuss the future of data publishing in the AAS journals — the Astronomical Journal (AJ) and the Astrophysical Journal (Apj), Letters (ApJL), and Supplement (ApJS) — it is important to set the scene by highlighting the journals' evolution over the last 15 years. Our goal is to provide the best journal services to authors, readers, and libraries. For authors the time to publish a journal article has been steadily reduced by about 2 months over the last decade. Similar declines have also been replicated in the costs to publish and subscribe. Figure 1 shows that over the last 15 years the cost of publishing in the AAS journals has declined by a factor of 2 when adjusted for inflation.

Figure 1 has been normalized to account for the fact that since 2011 we no longer charge on the basis of pages but rather digital quanta, e.g., figures, tables, 350-"word" groups, and online-only items. Likewise, the subscription cost has also dropped by a factor of 3 (see Figure 2) when scaled for both inflation and the substantial increase in the number of papers published.

Since the mid-90s, our content has been delivered via multiple methods, but the electronic edition, which is the version of record, contains numerous types of online only content that isn't possible to deliver in print or PDF. The types and amount of online-only content have been growing over the last 15 years. Initially we started with online-only tables in 2000. We convert the author's original table into formatted ASCII with an extensive metadata header that follows the same rules and standards as CDS's VizieR tables. This is our machine readable (MR) format, and there are now over 8,000 tables in our archive. In addition to online-only tables, we also started accepting FITS tabular and image files, MPEG animations, and source codes. In 2004 we developed a method to handle extensive online-only figures. These are called figure sets, and they can scale to very large numbers of online-only figures. One ApJ paper's figure set has over 1,500 components! Our newest project, data behind figures (DbF), was begun in 2010. From the author's original data set, a MR table or FITS file of the underlying data is created and then posted along with the figure. With these DbF files readers no longer have to use crude methods to guestimate figure values. Papers with DbF components are still rare, but as in the early days of MR tables, the popularity of DbFs is growing as more authors and readers become aware of them.

These capabilities meet the majority of our current readers' and authors' data needs, but we felt that we were only scratching the surface of the available data and that much more could be done. In order to determine the level of interest in the author and reader community toward data sharing, the AAS conducted a survey in early 2013. Corresponding authors of AAS journal papers from the previous 2 years were asked their opinions about providing and using data. The results were very encouraging. The majority of participants, 62%, provided some of the data via various means in their papers. About 45% of the provided data was with the journal article. Sixty percent of the authors also used data from other published papers. These results are backed up by our publisher's web logs, which show that online-only data are downloaded in significant numbers.

Our next step was to determine how much data could easily be captured from the figures we already publish. The results of this study were presented at the 221st AAS meeting in Long Beach, California, in January 2013. We found that there was significant "low-hanging fruit" in the form of simple X vs. Y plots whose data could be easily represented as a DbF. To increase awareness of DbFs the AJ immediately began a project for 2013 to review the figures of all submitted papers. Papers with good candidate figures were flagged, and the corresponding author was asked to supply the data before acceptance. The compliance rate has been high, 56%, and further supports the results of our data-sharing survey.

Clearly these results show that authors want to make data available and that readers want to use it in their own research, so where do we go from here? The next step is a workshop after the 2014 winter AAS meeting to discuss metadata semantics, digital structures and formats, and sensible practices for data peer review with select members of the astronomical community. Once these semantic and format issues are resolved we will begin upgrading the different types of future datasets and also how they are delivered. The data will be easily discoverable thanks to the implementation of Virtual Observatory standards and thus integrable within existing astronomical databases. These enhanced datasets will be given digital object identifiers (DOIs) and moved outside our 1-year subscription paywall, which will give individual data products their own independent and citable "identity" and also make them immediately available. Once these new data formats are established our goal is to apply the same enhancements to the data in our archive.

We are excited to be working on developing these new data formats and encourage authors to continue to supply the data behind their papers. Email me if you have questions about including different forms of data in future submissions or if you have other ideas or comments about data publication in the AAS journals.

Note: This article originally appeared on

Faye Peterson
AAS Director of Membership Services
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

If you paid your 2014 AAS membership dues by the end of 2013, you qualified for a 15% discount on your share of the author charges for one scholarly article accepted for publication this year in the Astrophysical Journal or the Astronomical Journal

To receive your discount, simply write "15% discount" and your AAS member number in the “Special Billing Instructions” section of the Publication Charge Contribution Form that you'll receive when your article is accepted by the journal's editors. Please note that the 15% discount will apply only to your share of the total payment for the article.

Christopher Biemesderfer
Director of Publishing
American Astronomical Society

This article is posted on behalf of Katie Frey, a librarian at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics:

The Unified Astronomy Thesaurus (UAT) is an open, interoperable, and community-supported thesaurus of astronomical and astrophysical concepts and their relationships. It unifies existing divergent and isolated astronomy and astrophysics vocabularies into a single high-quality, freely-available online thesaurus available to publishers, authors, and everyone else with an interest in classifying astronomical concepts.

A website was launched in early 2013 where the UAT can be found in support of these goals. There are three different ways to explore the UAT:

  1. a hierarchy browser, which shows the terms in context and lets you drill down through the various branches;
  2. an alphabetical browser, which can make it easy to discover information on a particular term without knowing beforehand where it might be located in the structure, and
  3. a dendrogram, or tree graph, which visually lays out the UAT and lets you expand and collapse terms to explore the relationships between words.

Additionally the UAT is available for download in several formats, including RDF and CSV. Please note, however, that since the UAT is still in beta, we expect many changes in the content of the thesaurus before our official version-1 release.

Another step we have taken has been to reach out to other groups that work with thesauri, notably the AgroVoc and EuroVoc efforts in the UN and Europe. Both use an open-source management platform called VocBench to maintain their thesauri, and we have benefited from all these projects.

Currently we are working with a small group of astronomers and astrophysicists who had previously expressed interest in becoming part of the editorial team. We will be giving them access to the UAT on the VocBench platform, which will allow them to test the interface and begin making suggestions to improve the UAT. Assuming all goes well, we hope to allow public access to VocBench in 2014. In the meantime, if you wish to view the UAT, you may peruse online browsers at the UAT website or download thesaurus files. Suggestions for the UAT may also be made using the new "Contribute" form on the website. Comments submitted in this manner will be forwarded to our team of editors for further discussion and inclusion in VocBench.

To express your interest in contributing to the UAT, in developing the UAT, or just to join in the discussion, please join our Google Group.

Doris Daou
Associate Director
NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute

The Solar System Exploration Research Institute (SSERVI) is pleased to announce the 1st annual NASA Exploration Science Forum (ESF, formerly the Lunar Science Forum), to be held in person 21-23 July2014 at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. The forum will feature scientific discussions of exploration targets of interest, including the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and the moons of Mars. Science sessions will focus on recent mission results and in-depth analyses of science and exploration studies.  Dedicated side-conferences for graduate students and young professionals — a graduate-student conference and a gathering of Next Generation Lunar Scientists and Engineers (NGLSE) — will coincide with the ESF. Public engagement discussions will be interwoven among science topics as well. Additionally, a 1.5-day meeting discussing science and exploration in the Global Exploration Roadmap (GER) will immediately follow the ESF, and the scientific community is welcome to attend.

Abstracts will be accepted from 18 February through midnight PDT on 26 April 2014 at

The next announcement, in mid-February, will discuss Exploration Science Forum logistics and details on the GER meeting.

We look forward to another exciting meeting focusing on the intersection of science and exploration!