In the last decade, astronomers have discovered more planets than in all the rest of recorded history-and all those planets have been orbiting stars other than our sun. How modern astronomers can tease out the existence of distant planets from slight changes in a star's light, to why some scientists believe a super-massive black hole may be gorging itself on the center of our galaxy, will be presented and discussed June 4 to 8 at the summer meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The biannual meetings of the AAS are among the largest gatherings of astronomers in the world.
"Rochester was chosen because the city is a technology center for astronomy," explains Judith Pipher, professor of astronomy at the University of Rochester and coordinator of the AAS meeting. "We have Kodak, which developed the mirror for the Chandra space telescope; we have the largest laser in the world for studying fusion reactions; we have astronomers developing state-of-the-art detector arrays; and we have the Richardson Grating Lab, which develops gratings for the largest telescopes in the world."
Scientists at the five-day event will discuss everything from the latest theories of astrophysics to the way amateur astronomers contribute to the science. Some of the topics include how planetary rings, such as those that define Saturn, evolve with a planet; the newest theories about the incredibly distant and bright spots in the sky called quasars; super-massive black holes and the possibility that they may exist in our own galaxy; the work being done here in Rochester on the Next Generation Space telescope (the replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope); and how local researchers are recreating the heart of a star in a laboratory.
The meeting gives the Rochester Astronomical Consortium, a new collaboration between University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology astronomers, a chance to showcase some of Rochester's strengths. Several presentations by the group are slated to cover plasma astrophysics, NASA's new infrared space telescope, SIRTF (Space Infrared Telescope Facility), and the world's largest airborne telescope, SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)-all of which involve the two Rochester schools.
The AAS has a winter and summer meeting every year to allow astronomers to share knowledge and keep abreast of the latest discoveries, theories and advancements in the science. There will be nearly 500 presentations from astronomers around the world.