Unproceedings from the .Astronomy4 Conference, Heidelberg, July 2012

Broadly speaking, the .Astronomy conference series aims to bring together astronomers, software engineers and educators who wish to explore how to use “Web 2.0” technologies to serve astronomy and astronomy outreach. The conferences are by design interactive and informal, with only a few scheduled presentations. Attendees decide the themes and content of sessions at the meeting, and an entire “hack day” is devoted to collaborative projects.

Haus der Astronomie, Heidelberg, site of .Astronomy 4,  July 2012.

Haus der Astronomie, Heidelberg, site of .Astronomy 4, July 2012.

This type of meeting, dubbed an “unconference,” does not lend itself to traditional proceedings, and so Robert Simpson et al. have prepared an “Unproceedings” summary, which you can download from the astro-ph preprint server, or from the .Astronomy4 website. The website also posts all the presentations and videos. There were 51 attendees at the meeting, and Simpson et al. pointed out that 48 of them have Twitter accounts, and there were 1,200 tweets posted via the #dotastro hashtag.

The unproceedings give a fine summary of the substance of the meeting. Each section has a summary and links to presentations and videos:

  • Visualization was a focus of the meeting. Many of us think we have good visualization skills but we don’t (and yes I am guilty!).  The golden rule of visualization – “location is everything, colour is difficult” – exhorts us to focus on essentials and avoid padding. Surgeries and intensive classes would be valuable in helping scientists acheive this.
  • Javascript, Python and astronomy in the browser. HTML5 and Javascript now allow astronomers to explore data with applications that that run in browsers. One project, astro.js, aims to create a library of such tools.  While Python has become the language of choice for many astronomers, the unproceedings pointed out the more traditional (some might say inbred) environments such as IDL remain are very popular.
  • Crowdsourcing is valuable for what might be termed “microtasks,” and may well work on larger scale.  A number of successful examples were given. Note that with Amazon Mechanical Turk you can even make a little money (and I mean a little …).
  • Career Structure and Development.  Social networking platforms are important in building communities – Astrobetter is an excellent example.  Astronomers should spend time developing their unique talents – events such as hack day help a lot in this regard.
  • Literature hacking.  New web based tools aimed at exploring interactions between data and literature may provide extraordinary opportunities for new research.
  • Education for a Global Audience. Local initiatives to offer scientific outreach are important – one excellent example is how the SKA is leading to such initiatives in Africa.

.Astronomy 4 Unproceedings by Robert Simpson (Oxford University), Chris Lintott (Oxford University), Amanda Bauer (Australian Astronomical Observatory), Bruce Berriman (IPAC, Caltech), Edward Gomez (LCOGT), Sarah Kendrew (MPIA), Thomas Kitching (MSSL/UCL), August Muench (Harvard CfA), Demitri Muna (New York University), Thomas Robitaille (MPIA), Megan E. Schwamb (Yale University), Brooke Simmons (Oxford University)

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