Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Drinking Bourbon, Talking Astronomy: the CANDELS Lexington Meeting

CANDELS team.  Photo courtesy: D. Kocevski

This year was my first ever CANDELS team meeting, and I didn't know quite what to expect. I knew there would plenty of discussion about galaxies, but after that I was unsure.  

I was nervous to give a talk to my largest audience yet. I was giving a presentation on my research about the structure and shape of galaxies with an active galactic nucleus (for more information on "AGN" check out this post) when these galaxies live either really close to other galaxies or far away from other galaxies. I eventually settled into a nice fluid delivery pretty quickly and realized quickly that 20 minutes really isn't that long.

Astronomers busy listening and working.
Photo courtesy: D. Kocevski
In addition to my talk there were many, many others. On subjects ranging from supernovae to large scale computer simulations of the formation and evolution of galaxies. Some of the most interesting presentations dealt with something called "candelizing" images. This process takes simulated galaxies and blurs them to a point where they resemble real galaxies that would be observed in CANDELS images (hence candelizing). When a galaxy simulation is performed, theoretically all knowledge about it is known.  

These "candelized" images can help with the visual classifications of galaxies, both by professional astronomers (in CANDELS) and amateur astronomers (through Galaxy Zoo). We can classify the simulated galaxies based on what they look like after "candelization" and then compare that to how they look in perfect resolution. This way we can use typical observational techniques when analyzing these galaxies, except that now we have the "correct answer" for all the physical attributes of the galaxy.

I singled out just one specific discussion but there were plenty more interesting talks.  After listening to all the talks I certainly learned a lot.  

Throughout the conference we splintered off into break-out sessions where experts in a very specific subfield of astronomy (such as AGN, spectrometry, galaxy clustering, data products, etc.) discussed the major problems and upcoming team papers. (During the AGN session it was fun to see my paper advertised as forthcoming very soon!)  There was also a small group discussing education and public outreach.  I learned we have an iPad app displaying the universe from very large scales down to the size of the Milky Way. The app both looks really cool visually and full of interesting facts. Be on the lookout in the app store for it in the near future.

Another grad student asked why isn't all research like the conference. Where we are constantly in contact with all of our collaborators. While I think it would be awesome for a day or two, I think everyone needs personal time to work on all their pet projects best done alone.

Basement cellar bourbon barrels, some aging over 20 years.
Photo courtesy: D. Kocevski
The (non-astronomy) highlight of the conference was definitely the bourbon distillery tour.  We visited Buffalo Trace's distillery in Frankfort, KY and got to see where "the magic happens".  We saw hundreds of barrels. (some of which have been aging longer than me!  I was afraid to ask how much those bottles of bourbon ran.)

Bottling by hand.  Photo courtesy: D. Kocevski
The tour guide also showed us the bottling plant, which is all done by hand. I asked one of the workers how many bottles a day they can fill and package and he said nearly 2000. If you're a fan of bourbon (or just seeing how things are made) I would highly recommend visiting the distillery.

After a week of astronomy my brain was full.  I don't think I could remember one more thing.  I had a great time and look forward to the next time we can all get together and talk about astronomy for a week straight.

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