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2nd Media Advisory, 233rd AAS Meeting, Seattle, WA, 6-10 January 2019

AAS 233 Logo21 December 2018

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


They don’t call the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) the “Super Bowl of Astronomy” just because it occurs in January. That moniker also refers to its size and its cornucopia of cosmic discoveries. The 233rd AAS meeting, to be held at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle the week of 6-10 January 2019, is definitely supersize, with nearly 3,200 scientists, students, exhibitors, reporters, and others registered to attend. The scientific program is huge, too, featuring some 2,400 plenary lectures, short talks, posters, and electronic iPosters. The most newsworthy among them will be highlighted in eight press conferences, including early results from NASA’s newest exoplanet hunter, breakthroughs in the quest to understand fast radio bursts, and insights into black holes and their host galaxies from here to the edge of the visible universe. Social-media hashtag: #aas233.

The AAS offers complimentary press registration to bona fide working journalists and public-information officers (PIOs), as explained below.

Highlights of AAS 233 for press registrants include tours of the SOFIA airborne observatory and the LIGO Hanford gravitational-wave observatory as well as a press dinner hosted by the Northwest Science Writers Association. These events require RSVPs, and some have limited capacity, so please don’t set this advisory aside till after the holidays!

Meeting links:

Press Registration & Badge Pickup

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

Advance press registration is now closed; see our list of current press registrants. Upon arrival at the Washington State Convention Center, preregistered press should proceed to the AAS registration desk in the Atrium Lobby on Level 4. Please try to pick up your badge before the AAS Opening Reception, which begins at 7 pm Sunday evening in the Metropolitan Ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel.

Reporters and PIOs who need to register on-site should go to the AAS registration desk in the Atrium Lobby on Level 4 and ask for an on-site press-registration form. You'll be asked to take it to the AAS press office (see next section) to have the form authorized by the AAS Press Officer, after which you may return to the registration desk to print your badge.

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 morning coffee and afternoon refreshments for on-site press registrants!

Press Office Staff:

We will also have a press interview room, Suite A on Level 6, for use by press registrants; use the online sign-up sheet to reserve this room for use at specific dates and times. (Thanks to Nola Redd for suggesting that this signup sheet, which used to be taped to the door, be put online instead.)

Press Conference Schedule, Topics & Speakers

News briefings will be held 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 wireless internet connectivity.

Following is the preliminary press-conference program, which remains subject to change. Briefings are scheduled as follows (all times are PST = UTC/GMT − 8 hours):

Briefing audio, slides, and video will be available live via webcast; online journalists will be able to ask questions of the presenters via text chat with an on-site press officer (see below).

In [square brackets] under the speakers’ names are the paper numbers or session numbers on which their presentations are based, where applicable.

All findings are embargoed until the time of presentation at the meeting. “Time of presentation” means the start time of the oral or poster session in which the paper will be given, or the start time of the corresponding press conference (if any), whichever comes first. See the complete AAS embargo policy for more information.

Note: All new discoveries are subject to confirmation by independent teams of scientists. Inclusion here does not imply endorsement by the American Astronomical Society. The AAS does not endorse individual scientific results.

Monday, 7 January 2019, 10:15 am PST
Stars & Planets from SOFIA, Spitzer & Citizen Scientists

Disruption of Orion Molecular Core 1 by Massive Star Theta1 Ori C’s Stellar Wind
Alexander Tielens (Leiden University) & Joan Schmelz (SOFIA/USRA)
[466.04] Note: Nature embargo expires at 10:00 am PST

The Universal Presence of Nightside Clouds on Hot Jupiters
Thomas Beatty (University of Arizona)

Spitzer Spots a Sixth Sub-Neptune in K2-138
Kevin Hardegree-Ullman (California Institute of Technology)

A Small Transiting Planet Discovered by Citizen Scientists
Adina Feinstein (University of Chicago)

Monday, 7 January 2019, 2:15 pm PST
Early Science from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

Introduction & Overview
Paul Hertz (NASA Headquarters)

A Status Report on the TESS Mission
George Ricker (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
[140 / 202 / 423]

Early Science from TESS: Exoplanets
Xu Chelsea Huang (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Early Science from TESS: Transients
Michael Fausnaugh (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

An Update on the TESS Guest Investigator Program
Patricia Boyd (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Tuesday, 8 January 2019, 10:15 am PST
Mysteries of Planet Formation

The Eroding Disk of the Young M Star AU Microscopium
Carol A. Grady (Eureka Scientific)

The Hot Jupiter Period-Mass Distribution as a Signature of In Situ Formation
Elizabeth Bailey (California Institute of Technology)

Microlensing Challenges the Core Accretion Runaway Growth Scenario for Gas Giants
David Bennett (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Exoplanet Masses Challenge the Core Accretion Theory of Planet Formation
Aparna Bhattacharya (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Tuesday, 8 January 2019, 2:15 pm PST
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey Keeps Going and Going

It’s Never too Late to be Active: APOGEE Chemical Abundances
of the Large Magellanic Cloud Reveal a Lazy Past and Active Present
David Nidever (Montana State University)

APOGEE Reveals Detailed Chemistry of the Most Numerous
Population of Exoplanet-Hosting Stars in the Galaxy: The M Dwarfs
Johanna Teske (Carnegie Observatories)

Science in the Library: A New Library of Stellar Spectra
Renbin Yan (University of Kentucky)

Mining MaNGA for Mergers: Accurate Identification
of Galaxy Mergers with Imaging and Kinematics
Rebecca Nevin (University of Colorado)

Wednesday, 9 January 2019, 10:15 am PST
Things That Go Bump in the Night Sky

Early Science Results on Fast Radio Bursts from CHIME
Vicky Kaspi (McGill University) & Deborah Good (University of British Columbia)
[110.03] Note: Nature embargo expires at 10:00 am PST

A Study of Radio Pulses from the Galactic Center Magnetar
Aaron Pearlman (California Institute of Technology)

Mapping the Contracting Corona in a New Black Hole Transient with NICER
Erin Kara (University of Maryland)
[130.04] Note: Nature embargo expires at 10:00 am PST

A Tidal Disruption Event in a Seyfert 2 Galaxy Observed with K2
Edward Shaya (University of Maryland)

Wednesday, 9 January 2019, 2:15 pm PST
Black Holes and Galaxies Near & Far

A Gravitationally Lensed Quasar at the Epoch of Reionization
Xiaohui Fan (University of Arizona)

Constraining Black Hole Spins Through Observations of Tidal Disruption Events
Dheeraj Pasham (MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research)
[239.07] Note: Science embargo expires at 2:15 pm PST

The X-ray Cavity Around a Hotspot in Cygnus A: A Bubble Inflated by a Jet
Amalya Johnson (Columbia University)

PHANGS-ALMA: Physics at High Angular Resolution in Nearby Galaxies with ALMA
Erik Rosolowsky (University of Alberta)
[305.06 / 450.01]

Thursday, 10 January 2019, 10:15 am PST
Exoplanets and Life Beyond Earth

Characterization of Extrasolar Planets with SCExAO/CHARIS on Subaru
Thayne Currie & Olivier Guyon (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan/Subaru)
[104.03 / 140.37 / 320.02D] 

A Search for Transiting Planets in NGC 6791
Benjamin Montet (University of Chicago)

Multiple Large Impacts Revealed by Variability in the Disk Around a Young Star
Kate Su (University of Arizona)

Can “Life Find a Way” on the Super-Earth Orbiting Barnard’s Star?
Edward Guinan (Villanova University)

Thursday, 10 January 2019, 2:15 pm PST
Astronomers Have a Cow

The Extreme Transient AT2018cow: Supernova or Tidal Disruption Event?
Dan Perley (Liverpool John Moores University)

Early Swift Observations of AT2018cow Suggest a Supernova Explosion
Liliana Rivera Sandoval (Texas Tech University)

Swift Spectra of AT2018cow Suggest a White Dwarf Tidal Disruption Event
Amy Lien (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center & Univ. of Maryland Baltimore County)

AT2018cow: Millimeter-Wave Radio Observations Suggest a Supernova
Anna Ho (California Institute of Technology)

NuSTAR Sees an X-ray Source in AT2018cow: The Birth of a Compact Object
Raffaella Margutti (Northwestern University)

Remote Access to Press Conferences

Journalists (and anyone else) unable to attend the meeting in person may tune in to our briefings streamed live on the Web. Since the webcast includes audio, video, and PowerPoint/Keynote slides, you must have a broadband (high-speed) Internet connection to watch and listen. Also, your Web browser must have the free Adobe Flash plug-in.

The webcast also includes a chat window whereby remote journalists (only) may ask questions. We can’t guarantee that all questions received from off-site reporters will be asked aloud — it depends on how much time we have and how many questions we’re getting from on-site reporters.

Press Conference Webcasts:


  • Press the Play () button in the video window to launch the webcast. The stream won’t be live until shortly before the briefing’s published start time.
  • You do not need a password to watch the webcast, but you do need a password if you want to ask questions. The password, which is the same for all the week’s briefings, is available only to bona fide journalists. Contact AAS Press Officer Rick Fienberg in advance. If you wait till the last minute to request the password, you have little hope of receiving it in time.
  • Enter the password in the input box beneath the video window.
  • Press the Open Chat Window button. You’ll be asked to enter your name; please use your real first and last names, not a cutesy internet nickname. If we don’t recognize you, we won’t forward your questions to the briefing panelists.
  • You can resize the chat window and move it to any convenient position on your screen.
  • To ask a question, type it into the input box near the bottom of the chat window and click the Send button.
  • After the meeting, archived webcasts will be freely available (without a password) via our online archive.

Media Availability on the Thirty Meter Telescope

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has been given official permission to restart construction atop Maunakea, Hawaii, three years after protesters interrupted the project. On Monday evening, 7 January, at 7:30 pm in Room 4C-2, the US Extremely Large Telescope Program, which encompasses both the TMT and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) now under construction in Chile, will hold an open house for all meeting attendees. The next day, from 11:45 am to 12:30 pm in the press-conference room (307/308), representatives from the TMT International Observatory will be available on background to brief reporters on what a restart in Hawaii may look like and to answer questions. This will be a great opportunity to meet project officials and to arrange for more detailed one-on-one interviews. This session is for on-site reporters only and will not be webcast.

Workshop for PIOs: “Trends and Best Practices in Media Relations”

Attention all public-information officers: Join us on Sunday, 6 January, from 2:00 to 5:30 pm in the briefing room (307/308) for a workshop exploring how the evolving media landscape is changing the way observatories, universities, and research institutions promote and publicize their results, discoveries, and milestones.

Transformative research is more often a multi-institutional and multinational endeavor, raising questions about how collaborative or independent publicity should be. In light of this and the downward trend in science coverage by the major media, PIOs need to continually reassess how they publicize the research and milestones of their institutions. For example, many find great success by producing a wide array of news content for a single research result (including text, video, animation, and infographics) and publicize and promote their content independently. Others forgo traditional press releases and simply promote their own research on their websites and through social media.

To help understand and respond to these trends, two small panels 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 individual presentations, panel discussions, and guided discussions among attendees. The outcome, we hope, 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.

Confirmed panelists include Alison Klesman (Astronomy), Alan Boyle (GeekWire), James Urton (University of Washington), and Ray Villard (Space Telescope Science Institute). 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. There will be cookies.

Capacity is limited to 30; sign up at

Press Tours 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.

In addition to the activities mentioned above, you’ll learn about flight opportunities for science writers and how to apply for one.

Media tours will be given on the following schedule:

  • Sunday, 6 January, at 2, 3, and 4 pm.
  • Monday, 7 January, at 9, 10 & 11 am and 2, 3 & 4 pm.
  • Tuesday, 8 January, at 9, 10 & 11 am and 2, 3 & 4 pm.
  • Wednesday, 9 January, at 9, 10 & 11 am and 2, 3 & 4 pm.

Only two spaces for press registrants are available at each time. You'll have to arrange your own transportation for a Sunday tour. On the other days, USRA will provide round-trip bus transportation between the Washington State Convention Center and Boeing Field. Visit the SOFIA booth (no. 718) in the Exhibit Hall to pick up your bus ticket.

Reserve your spot on a SOFIA media tour at

When you arrive for your tour, you will need to bring a photo ID and a completed copy of the reservation form provided as a downloadable PDF.

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

Note: If the US government shuts down, and if the shutdown remains in effect at the time of the AAS meeting, the SOFIA tours will not take place, as SOFIA will not fly to Boeing Field.

Press Tour to LIGO Hanford

The Seattle meeting will feature several plenary lectures and numerous other presentations on gravitational-wave astronomy. We’ve arranged a behind-the-scenes press tour to the Hanford, Washington, site of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) 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.

Sign up for the LIGO Hanford tour at

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 from 7:30 pm to 10:30 pm on Thursday evening, 10 January, and all AAS 233 press registrants are invited! (This will be in lieu of a separate press dinner.) The venue is the late Paul Allen’s Living Computers Museum + Labs, about 3 miles south of the Convention Center and chock full of fun interactive exhibits.

Cost: $40 for NSWA members, or $45 for nonmembers. Register by 11:59 pm PST on Thursday, 27 December, and save $10 on each ticket: just $30 for members, $35 for nonmembers. Capacity is limited, so advanced registration is recommended. Your ticket includes free admission to all three levels of this unique and hugely entertaining museum (a $16 value), plus catered appetizers, a dessert buffet, and an open bar.

Sign up at

For more details, including transit options, see the event page on NSWA's website.

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.