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AAS Hails New Era of Multimessenger Astrophysics

19 Oct 2017

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) applauds the many astronomers, physicists, engineers, and others involved in the amazing results shared this week on the first joint detection of gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation from the merger of two neutron stars and the associated kilonova explosion. This was a triumph for the global astronomical community and could not have been achieved without the combined efforts of thousands of people at hundreds of observatories and other research institutions across the planet — nor without long-term support by the federal government for innovation and discovery.

This is also the dawn of a new “multimessenger” era in the study of the universe, and the Society is proud that one of its journals, the Astrophysical Journal Letters (ApJL), played a key role in communicating the scientific results to the world. Significant effort was expended on the part of ApJL Editor Fred Rasio and Managing Editor Carolyn Chmiel (both Northwestern University), numerous referees, and more than 3,600 authors to get the results published in a 23-paper ApJL “focus issue” on October 16th.

Because of the importance of this discovery and the intense interest we knew it would spark among scientists and the public, the AAS decided to make Monday’s papers freely available to everyone from the moment of publication. Our publishing partner, Institute of Physics Publishing (IOPP), pulled out all the stops to ensure that we could effectively deliver the digital articles in a timely way online. At peak download shortly after the press conference announcing the results, IOPP reported more than 1,000 unique users per second accessing the content with very little delay in retrieving either the HTML or PDF versions of the articles.

The Society operates its journals — the Astronomical Journal (AJ), the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ), ApJ Letters, and the ApJ Supplement Series (ApJS) — on behalf of the scientific community and with a nonprofit focus. Journal revenues are balanced to the costs of production, archiving, and curation, and investments are made prudently to develop new features and enhancements. “Our journals are a vehicle for communicating discoveries about the universe to the scientific community and the world,” explains AAS Executive Officer Kevin B. Marvel. “We work very hard to keep costs low and impacts high. The widespread interest in this week’s results, supported by the scientific analyses published in ApJL, show that scientific journals are not just for scientists — they serve the broader public too.”

The AAS recently restructured its publishing activities to enhance our ability to efficiently peer-review and publish the best content in the astronomical sciences. In partnership with IOPP, we’ve created an eBooks program to produce high-quality monographs on a wide range of astronomy-related topics, including historical content, scientific content, and pedagogical content. We also launched AAS Nova, a website featuring easily understood summaries of noteworthy articles appearing in our journals, and have become involved in other projects such as Astrolabe and WorldWide Telescope that support astronomical research, publishing, education and outreach, and other activities in our discipline.

“When the AAS was founded only a little more than a century ago, most astronomers made their telescopic observations visually, by looking into eyepieces,” says AAS President Christine Jones (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). “Now we study the universe with a wide variety of tools and techniques, observing and recording electromagnetic radiation from radio waves to gamma rays, particles from neutrinos to cosmic rays, and now gravitational waves. It is exhilarating to participate in this adventure of discovery and to share what we learn with the public, whose support and encouragement mean everything to us.”

Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202 328-2010 x116

Kevin Marvel
AAS Executive Officer
+1 202 328-2010 x114 

The AAS, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its ~8,000 members also include physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the American Astronomical Society is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, and training and professional development.