Few places on Earth please me more than the Scottish highlands, to the point that I used to daydream about moving to Inverness (this was before that city’s population explosion, back when it weighed in at a sedate 50,000 inhabitants). But I’ll take anywhere in Scotland, and when I realized I wouldn’t be able to make the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow this time around, I found myself sinking into a multi-day funk. Fortunately all is not lost, as the IAC, organized this year by the British Interplanetary Society, has left a digital record behind.
The Web is second best to being there, to be sure, but it helps to be able to listen in on key talks. I’ll leave you to page through the images and video from the event, pleased to note that Kelvin Long’s highlight lecture Fusion, Antimatter & The Space Drive is available in its entirety. Interstellar advocate Long is a member of the BIS as well as an active player in the Tau Zero Foundation. If you can set aside 45 minutes or so, you’ll find him ranging through interstellar issues from the magnitude of the distances involved to the basic technologies that could eventually bridge them, with nods to futuristic concepts like antimatter rockets and space drives. Given the BIS’ involvement in the now legendary Project Daedalus, the first serious engineering study of a starship, Kelvin’s knowledgeable comments on that proposal are well worth hearing.
We’re clearly building toward a future in which all major conferences become available through streaming and archival video, even if at present such coverage can be spotty. The recent Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Ithaca, NY is a case in point, with all talks made available by the American Astronomical Society via webstreaming. Those of us with limited travel budgets have never had a better opportunity to participate in distant conferences than we have through Web-enabled sessions like these. With DPS 2008 now ended, the presentations are being assembled in a permanent video archive to be hosted by the AAS — I’ll pass that link along as soon as it becomes available.
Because I hadn’t checked the DPS site recently, I had to be reminded of the AAS contribution by last week’s Carnival of Space, which offered pointers to the Martian Chronicles blog. Ryan Anderson, Briony Horgan and Melissa Rice, the writers behind Martian Chronicles, are graduate students at Cornell with a passion for Mars. Last week Ryan devoted his attention to sessions he attended at the DPS conference, walking readers through discussions ranging from exoplanets to the mysteries of Titan.
As you wait for the archived DPS sessions, you can page through the Martian Chronicles entries, starting with this one, to get an idea of the range of studies presented last week. This is handy stuff for deciding which presentations you might want to view when the webstream archives become available. Controversial points are sprinkled throughout:
Another talk suggested that the methane in Titan’s atmosphere could be created by reaction of heavier organic molecules with hydrogen, but it was shot down in the questions session by people pointing out that the heavier organic compounds form from methane in the first place, and that when the heavy compounds lose their hydrogen, it escapes to space, making it a decidedly one-way sort of reaction.
A third Titan talk took a look at the absorption of infrared light when it goes through liquid methane and suggested rather controversially that some of the “lakes”that people are seeing may only be a few millimeters deep! This spurred a discussion of how well one can tell the depth of a body of liquid just by looking at it. One of the audience members said that “I wouldn’t gauge the depth of Cayuga lake by how deep I can see” but the counterargument was that, in the infrared, lakes are much clearer than they are at visible wavelengths.
Ryan is quick to note the places of unusual interest, as for example David Charbonneau’s discussion of an exoplanet 1.7 times as large as Jupiter but with roughly the same mass, a planet whose density is something like balsa wood. I’ll queue that one for playing, along with other presentations covering the discoveries now being extracted from transiting planet observations. Both the IAC and DPS sessions as preserved by the Net take a bit of the sting out of not being able to attend in person and should serve as a reminder to all conference organizers of the need to build and maintain permanent archives.