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1st Media Advisory, 233rd AAS Meeting, Seattle, WA, 6-10 January 2019

AAS 233 Logo6 November 2018

Dr. Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x116; cell: +1 857-891-5649

The Seattle Seahawks don’t make it to the Super Bowl with any regularity, but the Super Bowl of Astronomy makes it to Seattle every four years. Better known as the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), this celestial extravaganza returns to the Emerald City the week of 6-10 January 2019. The 233rd AAS meeting takes place at our usual venue, the Washington State Convention Center, conveniently located downtown and a great jumping-off point for excursions to picturesque Puget Sound and the magnificent Cascade Range, home to towering Mount Rainier. And, of course, you can get a terrific cup of coffee on nearly every street corner! Twitter hashtag (for the meeting, not the coffee): #aas233.

The AAS offers complimentary press registration to bona fide working journalists and public-information officers (PIOs), as explained below. A highlight of AAS 233 for press registrants will be a tour to the Hanford, Washington, site of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) on Friday, 11 January; see details below (and plan your travel accordingly).

Meeting links:

Gathering with the AAS this time are its Historical Astronomy Division (HAD) and High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD). The HAD meeting gets under way on Sunday afternoon, 6 January, with a special session on NASA’s Spitzer observatory. More HAD sessions on a variety of topics follow over the next few days, including a Monday plenary address by astro-historian David DeVorkin (National Air and Space Museum) commemorating the recent 150th birthday of George Ellery Hale, who discovered magnetic fields in sunspots, built several of the world’s largest telescopes, cofounded the Astrophysical Journal, and helped establish the AAS.

HEAD’s sessions occur on Tuesday, 8 January, and two of them focus on anniversaries as well: the Chandra X-ray Observatory at 20 years and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope at 10. That afternoon Colleen Wilson-Hodge (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center) will give the HEAD Bruno Rossi Prize lecture. She and her colleagues on the Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) team are receiving the prize for their discovery of gamma rays coincident with the 17 August 2017 neutron-star merger that also emitted gravitational waves and launched a new era of multimessenger astronomy.

The Seattle meeting offers a rich assortment of other prize and invited talks by distinguished astronomers. Two of them continue with the multimessenger-astronomy theme. Vicky Kalogera (Northwestern University) will present her Dannie Heineman Prize lecture on the evolution and fate of compact objects in binary systems, emphasizing their electromagnetic and gravitational-wave signals. And Sir James Hough (University of Glasgow, Scotland), recipient of the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal for Astronomy, will discuss the key technologies and experimental techniques that made the direct detection of gravitational waves possible.

Winter AAS meetings are bookended by two special lectures. In Seattle the opening talk, on Monday morning, 7 January, is the Kavli Foundation Plenary Lecture. Gregory P. Laughlin (Yale University) will present “A Color Out of Space: ‘Oumuamua’s Brief and Mysterious Visit to the Solar System;” he’ll be joined by Ka’iu Kimura (‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, Hawaii), who will explain where the name ‘Oumuamua comes from. The closing plenary talk, on Thursday afternoon, 10 January, is the Lancelot M. Berkeley − New York Community Trust Prize lecture, to be given by Elena Aprile (Columbia University). She is being honored for her leadership of the XENON project and its groundbreaking search for the weakly interacting massive particles (“WIMPs”) thought to make up dark matter.

Julianne Dalcanton (University of Washington), recipient of the Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize for exceptionally creative or innovative research, will describe her pioneering use of large surveys to study low-surface-brightness galaxies and to resolve stellar structures and populations in the Milky Way and other galaxies. The Henry Norris Russell Lecture, celebrating a lifetime of eminence in astronomical research, will be given by Joseph Silk (Institute of Astrophysics, Paris, France), who has significantly advanced our understanding of the early universe and galaxy formation.

Lauren Ilsedore Cleeves (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) will present the Annie Jump Cannon Award lecture on her theoretical and observational work on planet formation and protoplanetary disks. And Caitlin Casey (University of Texas, Austin) will give the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize lecture on high-redshift star-forming galaxies and the importance of submillimeter observations in deciphering galaxy evolution.

In addition we’ll hear invited talks by Ryan Hickox (Dartmouth College) on the evolution of active galactic nuclei, Alex Szalay (Johns Hopkins University) on big data from big sky surveys, Aomawa Shields (University of California, Irvine) on exoplanet climate and habitability, and Catherine Espaillat (Boston University) on young stars and protoplanetary disks.

There will also be a wide variety of contributed oral and poster presentations, bringing the total number of plenaries, short orals, and posters to more than 2,300. Many of the short talks and posters will be showcased in Special Sessions, including “New Results from the Dark Energy Survey,” “Frontiers of Pulsar Astrophysics,” “Machine Learning in Astronomical Data Analysis,” “Frontiers in Exoplanets” (a joint AAS-American Geophysical Union session), and dozens more on other currently hot topics.

In addition, the Seattle program is chock-full of lunchtime and evening Town Hall meetings on astronomy and public policy, featuring representatives from NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, and other observatories and space missions. Of particular interest will be a National Academy of Sciences Town Hall on the forthcoming Astro2020 decadal survey, which will set community priorities for research in astronomy and astrophysics for the period 2020 to 2030 and recommend new ground- and space-based observatories to keep these disciplines moving forward.

Complimentary Press Registration

The AAS offers complimentary press registration to bona fide working journalists and PIOs, as described on our press-credentials page.

To request complimentary press registration, send an email message to AAS Press Officer Dr. Rick Fienberg with your name and media affiliation (or “freelance” if applicable). Upon confirming your eligibility, he’ll send you the URL of an online registration form and the required press-registration code. Although press registration will be available on-site at the meeting, we strongly advise you register in advance to avoid long lines at the registration booth. Please send your email request to Rick Fienberg as soon as you know you’re coming to the meeting.

Press Facilities

USRA LogoThe AAS will operate a press office in Room 309 on Level 3 at the Washington State Convention Center, with working space, telephone, photocopier, printer, power strips, and internet connectivity for reporters and PIOs. Thanks to the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) for generously sponsoring the press office with refreshments for on-site press registrants!

We will also have a press interview room, Suite A on Level 6, for use by press registrants; there will be a sign-up sheet so that you can reserve this room for use at specific dates and times.

We expect to hold press conferences each morning and afternoon, Monday, 7 January, through Thursday, 10 January, adjacent to the press office in Rooms 307/308, which will be equipped with a sound system, mult-box, and internet connectivity. Briefing audio, slides, and video will be available live via webcast to accredited journalists unable to attend in person; online participants will be able to ask questions of the presenters via text chat with an on-site press officer. Details will appear in the next media advisory.

In addition to science briefings, we are planning a special panel discussion entitled “Behind ‘Enemy’ Lines: Why Astronomers and Journalists Do What They Do.” Organized by Camille Carlisle of Sky & Telescope magazine, this session — which we hope will attract both regular attendees and press registrants — will feature two researchers and two reporters offering their perspectives on how scientists and journalists can work together more effectively to share new results in astronomy with the public. Details will appear in the next advisory.

Sunday Workshop for PIOs

Attention all public-information officers: Join us from 2:00 to 5:30 pm on Sunday afternoon, 6 January, for a workshop entitled “Trends and Best Practices in Media Relations.” The national and international media landscape is evolving. Science news is a diminishing portion of the news cycle, while those publications and websites that do cover science often rely on news aggregators for content rather than on independent reporting. This change is affecting how observatories, universities, and research institutions promote and publicize their results, discoveries, and milestones. Those institutions that are most successful often produce a wide array of news products (including text, video, animation, and infographics) and publicize and promote their content independently.

To help understand and respond to these trends, a small panel of outreach and communication experts will provide insights into the emerging trends and best practices in media relations in science generally and in astronomy specifically. This workshop will include both individual presentations and a panel discussion. The outcome will be a series of recommendations that institutions can use to better package and disseminate their research results to the broadest audience by building an appreciation for the latest tools and approaches in media relations.

The workshop is sponsored by the AAS Press Office and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) Education and Public Outreach Department; it is organized by NRAO PIO Charles Blue. Instructions for signing up for the workshop will appear in the next advisory.

Press Tour to LIGO Hanford

As noted above, there will be quite a lot of discussion about gravitational-wave astronomy at the Seattle meeting, and we’ve arranged a behind-the-scenes press tour to LIGO Hanford — one of the observatories that first detected gravitational waves from merging black holes — on Friday, 11 January, the day after the meeting ends. Our tour guide will be lead detection scientist Keita Kawabe (Caltech). Since LIGO will likely still be offline for upgrades at that time, we should be able to see things that would be off limits if the detector were operating.

AAS Press Officer Rick Fienberg plans to rent a van to transport the group. We’ll depart Seattle after breakfast on Friday morning, stop for a quick lunch en route, then arrive for our tour in the early afternoon. After spending about two hours at LIGO Hanford, we’ll return to Seattle in the late afternoon. If you wish to join this tour and are not local to the Seattle area, please plan to travel home no earlier than Friday night, 11 January; Saturday morning, 12 January, would be a safer bet. Instructions for signing up for the tour will appear in the next media advisory.

Press Tour to SOFIA

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a 2.5-meter telescope mounted in a Boeing 747SP aircraft, will land at Boeing Field (officially King County International Airport), about 6.5 miles south of the Convention Center, just as we’re gathering for the AAS meeting. USRA, which operates the airborne observatory for NASA, has arranged tours for both press registrants and regular attendees throughout the week. (The observatory is not open to the public.)

Guests will tour the interior of the observatory while learning more about SOFIA’s recent science observations. Science and mission staff will be on hand to discuss the observatory’s infrared observations, the engineering challenges of flying and stabilizing a large telescope at altitudes as high as 45,000 feet and speeds of Mach 0.85, as well as SOFIA’s unique operational model: 10-hour missions, returning each morning to prepare for the next night’s observations.

A press-only tour will occur on Sunday, 6 January, at 3 pm; you’ll be back at the Convention Center in time for the opening reception that evening. In addition to the activities mentioned above, you’ll learn about flight opportunities for science writers and how to apply for one. Signup instructions and transportation details will be included in the next advisory.

If you can’t attend the Sunday-afternoon tour, you can still visit the observatory along with regular meeting attendees. Buses will depart the Convention Center at regular intervals on Monday morning, 7 January, and throughout the day on Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 and 9 January. There is no cost, but you must pick up a bus ticket at the SOFIA booth (number 718) in the Exhibit Hall. Note, too, that SOFIA tours are extremely popular, and space is limited.

For more information about visiting SOFIA, including security and safety rules, visit

Press Receptions

Some meetings we have no press receptions. Others we have one or two. At AAS 233 in Seattle, we’ll have three! They’ll occur at 5:30 pm Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and feature drinks and hors d’oeuvres. At the first one, representatives from the American Institute of Physics will present science writing awards to David Baron for his book American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World and Wyatt Channell for his documentary “How the Universe Works: ‘Secret History of Pluto.’” On Tuesday the Chandra X-ray Center (CXC) will celebrate its namesake observatory’s 20th anniversary in space; director Belinda Wilkes (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) will be on hand to answer your questions about the mission’s past achievements and future directions. The next afternoon we’ll be joined by staff members from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, who enjoyed last year’s press reception so much they’ve decided to hold another one.

Press Dinner/Party with the Northwest Science Writers Association

The Northwest Science Writers Association (NSWA) is holding their annual dinner party and meeting on Thursday evening, 10 January, and all AAS 233 press registrants are invited! The venue is the Living Computers Museum + Labs, about 3 miles south of the Convention Center and chock full of fun interactive exhibits. The cost will not exceed $75, including a full catered dinner and open bar. Signup instructions and transportation details will appear in a future advisory.

A Note on Visas for Travel to the United States

Visa requirements for international travelers to the USA have become more stringent; see, for example, the following web pages:

Depending on your country of citizenship and how you characterize your trip to Seattle, you may not need a visa. If you do need one, it could be either a B-1 or B-2 (business) visa or an I (journalism) visa. You are responsible for figuring out whether you need a visa and, if so, which one. If you need a letter for a visa application certifying that you are registered for the meeting, please request your complimentary press registration as soon as possible; only after you complete it can AAS Press Officer Rick Fienberg send you such a letter.

AAS Press-Release-Distribution Service

If you don't already receive astronomy-related press releases forwarded by email from the AAS Press Office, you should sign up now to guarantee that you receive future meeting advisories as well as electronic copies of all press releases issued during the meeting. To sign up for the AAS press-release-distribution service, for which there is no charge, please fill out and submit the form you'll find linked from our Join the AAS Press List page. With few exceptions, only accredited journalists and PIOs are eligible to receive press releases forwarded by the AAS, as described on our press-credentials page.