Sunday, July 15, 2012

Astronomy: Cool Stars 17 Meeting

I wanted to write up a brief summary of my thoughts on the Cool Stars meeting, but was busy traveling and then had the ALMA proposal deadline. That's all past now, so here are some quick thoughts.

What is Cool Stars?
This is an international conference held every 2 years since 1980. The full title is the "Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems, and the Sun" and as you can imaging it deals with stellar astronomy. The website description says it all:
Cool Stars is now a well established workshop, which gathers biennially about 400 worldwide experts in Low-Mass Stars, Solar Physics and more recently also Exoplanets, creating an stimulating cross-disciplinary exchange environment in these fields. Cool Star meetings have a long tradition of presenting cutting-edge science, as shown by outstanding results such as the discovery of the first Extrasolar Planet and the first confirmed Brown Dwarf, which were first announced in the Cool Stars 9 meeting celebrated in Florence, Italy in 1995.

Barcelona, Spain
I had been to Spain before, but never Barcelona and I must say it is a very nice city. It blends together old, gothic architecture with sleek, modern buildings and infrastructure all tied up with a splendid Mediterranean charm. Apparently there was a heat wave during our stay so it was a bit hot, but I felt the weather was perfect, especially when compared to the winter weather here in Santiago.

La Sagrada Familia, one of the main sights of Barcelona

We were warned about pickpocketers and purse snatchers, but I didn't had any problem. I was super careful though, given that I have been pickpocketed here in Santiago, Chile. If I heard correctly, though, some people did have some unfortunate experiences. However, this is always a problem with big cities, particularly in the touristy areas that we frequented.

The Meeting
This was the first CoolStars I attended so I have little to compare to, but I think it was pretty good. I met several people which have worked with me (but live too far away to meet in person) as well as people who have published papers I've read and cite. Always nice to put a face to the name, despite my being quite bad at remembering faces. Good thing we all had name badges! 

I haven't worked the conference game enough yet so most people don't know me by face, but there were some people who had read my papers and knew of me, so that was awesome. I also saw some people I met (and remembered) from the few other conferences I've been to so that was cool. I was warned that the conference was very "cliquey" in that folks generally stick with their research group or close friends and I guess that may be true, but I think I'll have to attend others to really see if that's the case.

I had both a spinter talk and a poster, though these were the same. My talk was in the Kinematics section, but I felt a bit out of place since I only very preliminary results. However, the organizers (Adam Burgasser and Jackie Faherty) did a marvelous job of placing it with other great and complementary talks on the same subject so everything flowed nicely and my talk felt like it was providing some useful information.

I heard about some upcoming results I'll be excited to read about when they get published. One of the greatest things about the conference, in my opinion, was the fact that it was so focused. It's literally about everything related to cool stars, which is my research area so there were tons of relevant talks. The bad thing is that some splinters sessions were scheduled at the same time and I couldn't see both. I took quite a bit of notes for some talks and even shared a few tidbits via twitter.

Most of my notes are rather cryptic so, for astronomers, it's best if you just read the papers and get the details. For non-astronomers, here's some interesting facts if you're thinking about science fiction universes with planets around low-mass M-stars. Victoria Meadows was presenting on her work regarding habitability of planets around such stars. There was some discussion about the strong flares that can occur on these stars. Protons from these can wipe out the ozone layer, though the ozone can recover in about 2 years and thus not be totally detrimental to life. Another cool fact was that a close-in planet may experience tidal heating, such as what the moons of Jupiter have. That could be strong enough to boil off any oceans on the planet so it's something important to consider!

The Cool Stars 17 attendees.

Twitter At the Conference
The other big set of conferences I've been to is AAS, which has a strong online presence with plenty of people tweeting back and forth about results, interesting facts, or general information. Despite the fact that the conference was pretty big (~400 people), that was not the case here. Still, I wanted to track what went on in the twiterverse. I was running Archivist's statistics tool and here's what it shows after one or two days and then a few days after the conference was over:

Notice anything odd? Halfway through the conference, a Canadian lacrosse player named Chris Sanderson passed away. By chance, his jersey number was 17 so, there you have it: #CS17, the same twitter hashtag as CoolStars. Slowly but surely, these tweets dominated the stream, though it didn't pick up until the very end of the conference. The tweet cloud at the end of this post has removed these particular tweets in order to highlight the science alone. I also remove the #cs17 hashtag since it dominates over everything (given that it's on every tweet). For a record of most of the tweets, check out this recap page from Ryan Hamilton (you can also check out his Cool Stars 17 blog post).

So who were the tweeting champions? See for yourself:
Kudos to Kelle Cruz and John Gizis for tons of informative tweets during the talks.

Final Thoughts
Lots of interesting talks and neat people. Alas, I unfortunately got a bit sick and didn't go out too much at night, but even so I still feel I had a good experience overall. Visiting Europe is always nice and I got a chance to visit a friend's wedding reception in France right after CoolStars. If my ALMA proposal gets accepted, I should have some very interesting results to show off for next time.

Next Cool Stars (#18) will be held in Flagstaff, Arizona. See you there!

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