Some astronomer stuff

By Phil Plait | February 11, 2006 2:18 pm

‘Until Deutsch opens his mouth again (and of course, he has), here’s a couple of fun links to keep you busy.

Did you know astronomers are all stuffed shirts with no emotion, passion, or capacity for fun?

Well, you’re wrong.

In fact, a lot of astronomers are pretty happening folks. That picture was from the last American Astronomical Society meeting (about which I live-blogged extensively, starting here). 3000 or so astronomers gathered there to discuss science, astronomy, research, the latest news, and much more. After four days, we needed to blow off some steam!

Enter "Out of the Rain". This group of hip astronomers (when going through the images, look for the woman in the black cat outfit, and another in the red devil outfit, for starters) combs the city at each meeting, looking for good nightclubs that will allow a few hundred eggheads the chance to revel. In January, it was the TomTom Club in Adams Morgan. We rocked the place for about four hours, and it was fun. Astronomers are pretty cool… except for that one dork I highlighted in the picture. Well, he was a pretty good dancer, and he did find himself surrounded by exceptionally cool, witty, and intelligent people, and he did party until about 2:00 a.m., and he did woefully regret it the next day during a business meeting with the head of a very large organization of amateur astronomers.

But he had fun.

Incidentally, a lot of other folks wrote about the meeting. I was particularly impressed with the views of this young woman, who was attending her first AAS meeting. She’s an undergrad, and has some interesting comments.

The next time someone tells you all scientists are boring, point ’em toward those pictures, and tell them that should try coming to the next meeting. If they can keep up with us, that is.’

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Humor, Science, Time Sink

Comments (19)

  1. Okay – maybe Astronomers are fairly cool, but biologists are way, way cooler! Admit it ;-}

  2. dre

    Ha ha ha!

    You used “astronomer highlighting” to mark yourself in that picture! Most folks would just draw a circle, you know…

    Keep your feet on the ground… and keep reaching for the stars.

  3. Alas, you’re not fooling us. I mean, ANYONE can act normal in public, or get a lookalike to stand in for him/her. Everyone KNOWS astronomers are weird… 😉

  4. george

    You must be right, Brian. Notice there is no lighting in the room! This is likely some special IR imaging with false color. Of course, being astronomers, they prefer no lighting. :)

  5. That was one of three packed dance floors. :-)

  6. I see people with drinks in their hands, you can’t dance like that!
    You can only do the “white man’s overbite” with a drink in your hand :-)

  7. Nigel Depledge

    Or just spill 80% of your drink. Phil, was the dance floor sticky?

  8. Berkeley

    “How do you eat DNA spaghetti?
    – With a replication fork.”

    This is good humour, you know. I totally agree with mr. Gibson.

  9. Does it really matter what others think about whether you are cool or not?
    Astronomy is fun, and I try to help my students find the joy in it. After all, what can be more grand than trying to observe the whole universe…
    “1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim the work of His hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
    Psalms 19
    “For since the creation of the world
    God’s invisible qualities-
    His eternal power and divine nature-
    have been clearly seen,
    being understood from what has been made,
    so that men are without excuse.”
    Rom. 1:20 (NIV)
    What more do we need than that?

  10. I saw a lot more women in those photos than I had expected. Are more women going into astronomy than in previous decades, or am I wrong about thinking of astronomy as being yet another mostly-male field?

    And does it have anything to do with Jodie Foster playing an astronomer?

  11. Jon Niehof

    arensb, astronomy is a far more gender-balanced field than physics in general. That’s true of people established in the field and especially of the upcoming crop.

    Usually when I’m at a conference, the grad student and postdoc population is only slightly skewed male, and that’s mostly from the international students. The US student population may even have a slight female majority. My class started with 7 women and 5 men. The class that entered behind me was 4 women and 1 man.

    I suspect astronomy may attract more women partly because a few prominent computers made important contributions and were given some recognition and opportunity to work by their supervisors–see e.g. Annie Jump Cannon. So, maybe the field’s a little more welcoming as a result. Strictly speculation, mind you.

    I also suspect (a little more strongly) that Contact had nothing to do with it and some of my colleagues would be offended by the suggestion. They’re solidly dedicated to their careers and would have pursued them with the same degree of determination and skill with or without Jodie Foster.

  12. The graudate classes in astronomy are indeed becoming much more balanced gender-wise. And, I suspect that not only is it not due to Contact, but it’s also not due to Annie Jump Cannon or Henriette Leavitt or the like. After all, for most of the 20th century, Astronomy was just as male-dominated as Physics was (and Physics, frusturatingly, mostly remains so).

    I have heard any number of hypothoses as to why astronomy is doing better than Physics. My own hypothosis is that once it nucleates, it grows. If you reach some sort of “critical mass” of women in the field, it lowers the barriers for younger women to enter. Both external– men eventually have to admit that women can do astronomy once they know a few who are really good at it– and internal– women are more likely to feel comfortable diving into the field if there are other women already there.

    Given that girls do better at school in general in the elementray and high school years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Astronomy 60% female in this country in a decade or two.


  13. Dot

    What? Only his head? Call Fox News.

  14. artmso

    The “devil” is really cool :-)
    But where is the “black cat”???

    In some mediterranian countries, the gender-balance is in favour of women, since astronomy is not considered a carrierpath that can lead to fortune, fame and power, and hence, isn’t threatening to male egos…
    -Regner ( [male-]astronomer at Mt. Stromlo, Australia)

  15. hale_bopp

    I have been to several of these parties as well…and will go to them every time I am at one of the conferences. If you see AAS or ASP in your city, drop by :)


  16. Phil, I told you not to tell anyone about our party …. now everybody will want a cool astronomer at home … :-)
    That party was a blast!

  17. How nice it is see such rich discussion evolve from our silly party pictures. For those of you who have attended one of our “little soirées” in the past, I’m glad we could provide you the opportunity to shake your groove thang. For those of you who noticed how many women were present, as our Out of the Rain Productions tagline says, we are “changing the face of astronomy one cocktail at a time” (or at least trying). So, check out our Tour Dates, and if we’re in a town near you, come party with the cool kids.

    Also, for those of you who have attended one of our events in the past (or for those of you who just know way too many astronomer), we need your help. Our photo galleries are filled with people trying to find their names. If you know one of them, letting us know is just one click away.


  18. Harv

    “Does it really matter what others think about whether you are cool or not?”
    “And does it have anything to do with Jodie Foster playing an astronomer?”

    Being a female astronomer (who, alas, has not yet attended one of the very cool parties at the AAS meetings), I just had to address these two quotes. I work a lot with young girls – and try to get them interested in science. One of the things I’ve found that helps is just being there, announcing yourself as an astronomer. Many people (old, young, men and women) have the idea that an astronomer is this “other” kind of person (generally old, white haired men in a lab coat). By having role models that don’t fit that stereotype (say, a young woman who dresses in contemporary fashion), they are better able to see themselves in that role – or to encourage their kids to be interested in science. That actually happened to me once – an older man on a telescope tour, seeing me in my PJ’s, said, “You’re an astronomer?” and then went onto say that he would encourage his granddaughter to be interested in science. Another example is when I told a group of teenage girls that I take bellydancing lessons. It rather blew away their idea that scientists are “boring” people. (or that one would have to give up doing other interesting things when you are a scientist) The idea that scientists are just as interesting and varied as people in the rest of the population is a powerful one.

    On the issue of Jodi Foster, I know several of us women grad students who reallly loved the movie. It came out when we were in college, already on our path to become astronomers, and so it was a nice affirming image in the media. Of course, many of us had already read the book and site Carl Sagan as a large influence on us becoming astronomers (particularly in my case). I’m not sure what people younger than I would say (since they may have been at a better age to be directly influenced). I guess I don’t understand why people would be offended by a positive image of a woman astronomer in the popular media. (particularly when the character was (loosely) based on the career path of a woman astronomer.)


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