Boston Lives Up to Its Nickname


With tongue firmly planted in cheek, people have been calling Boston the “Hub of the Universe” since the 19th century. But it was no joke when the AAS convened its 224th meeting, 1-5 June 2014, at the Westin Copley Place in the city’s historic Back Bay district.


Even without the AAS in town, the Greater Boston area occupies a key spot on the astronomical map thanks to its being home to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, Boston College, Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts, the Chandra X-ray Center, Sky & Telescope magazine, the American Association of Variable Star Observers, and several other institutions with cosmic connections. With so many astronomers already in the neighborhood, the Boston meeting proved to be a particularly dynamic gathering — all the more so because the AAS Solar Physics Division (SPD) and Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD) met with us.


Registrations numbered 1,185, but the total number of participants was considerably higher thanks to the 100+ local middle- and high-school students who toured the exhibit hall and engaged in hands-on science-education activities and the many members of the public who looked through telescopes set up on Boston Common one evening.


Among the scientific highlights of the meeting were a baker’s dozen plenary presentations, featuring the Kavli lecture by cosmologist David Spergel (Princeton), the Pierce Prize lecture by quasar expert Nadia Zakamska (Johns Hopkins), and talks by the winners of the SPD Hale and Harvey prizes. In addition, hundreds of contributed oral and poster presenters shared their latest ideas and discoveries across the full spectrum of astronomical topics.


There were four special sessions (astronomy R&D using picosatellites, observational and theoretical aspects of the multiverse, long-time-domain astronomy, and assorted topics in astrostatistics) and two multisession Meeting-in-a-Meeting programs (gamma-ray constraints on the extragalactic background light and the intergalactic magnetic field, and planets beyond the reach of NASA’s Kepler mission). Six LAD sessions, covering topics from particles to planets, explored the theme “Bridging Laboratory and Astrophysics.” Two more, convened jointly with SPD, were themed “Bridging Laboratory and Solar Plasma Studies.” SPD organized no fewer than 14 of its own sessions on topics ranging from the solar interior to the corona and out into the heliosphere.


Also in Boston we experienced a changing of the guard as outgoing AAS President David Helfand surrendered the gavel to incoming President Meg Urry, whose term runs through mid-2016. As should by now be obvious, there was plenty of astronomical hubbub in the Hub when the AAS came to town!


Rick Fienberg, AAS Press Officer

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