Built for the 1962 Worldâ€™s Fair, the 605 foot high Space Needle is a famous Seattle landmark. People whoâ€™ve never even been to Seattle know it from pictures. The theme of the fair was the 21st Century, and planners wanted some structure to symbolize the future. The Space Needle is what they came up with . About 500 feet up is a structure resembling a flying saucer. In the 1950â€™s and early 1960â€™s, flying saucers were the in thing, and were symbolic of the future. When it was built, the Space Needle was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River. Now, of course, there are quite a few taller buildings.
So, why am I writing about the Space Needle? Thatâ€™s more of a topic for my friend Mary Jo over at The Seattle Traveler. Well, the reason is that I am just about to go to Seattle. But, though I hope to see the Space Needle while there, that isnâ€™t why I am going. Rather, I am going to the 209th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The AAS is the association for professional astronomers in North America. This meeting, though, will draw astronomers not just from North America, but from many far away places, too.
The American Astronomical Society is 93, 107, or 109 years old, depending upon how you count it. Generally, the AAS counts its first meeting as being September, 1899, but that was really the third meeting of professional astronomers in America, the first being held October, 1897. But, the organization that was to become the AAS did not pick the name American Astronomical Society until 1914.
Centuries ago, scientists studied pretty much all of the sciences. But, by the Nineteenth Century, the volume of knowledge and the specialized skills needed to pursue various areas of study had resulted in scientists specializing as chemists, geologists, physicists, biologists, and so forth. These specialists began to associate with those in their own field. So, the long standing science organizations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences began to lose ground to the specialized societies such as the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, the American Mathematical Society, and the Geological Society of America. Today there are even more specialized societies for all sorts of subfields.
In the midst of all this, George Ellery Hale called the first Conference of Astronomers and Astrophysicists in 1897. Astronomy for years had been a specialized discipline within physics, but often not thought of a profession in itself. By 1899, these professional astronomers had organized themselves into the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America (AASA). The AASA quickly became associated with the Astronomical Journal, which had been published since 1895. The AASA changed its name to the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in 1914. The AAS then took control of the Astrophysical Journal in 1972. These are the two major research journals (and their associated letters) of the AAS.
The AAS for many years has had two meetings per year, one in January and one in June. The locations wander around the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Starting Sunday, January 7, 2007, will be the 209th American Astronomical Society Meeting, this time in Seattle, Washington.
I really like these meetings. It is a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. And, I always like getting to talk to colleagues from other places, and seeing people that I havenâ€™t seen in a while. Also, I really like learning all sorts of things at these meetings. The program for the conference goes on for 430 pages. There is a LOT there for me to see and hear. Thereâ€™s no way to take it all in, but Iâ€™ll do my best. Iâ€™ll try to post from the meeting. I am sure that there will be a lot of interesting things to post about!