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August 5th, 2009

Astronomy "Worldcon"

 So, while a good number of my friends are partying at the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal, I am stuck here in boring old Rio de Janeiro, attending the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union. Poor me.

The IAU GAs are unlike any other scientific convention I have attended, in that half of what goes on here is politics... the boring but essential kind of politics, where a lot of arbitrary decisions are made over matters that can be tedious (but are sometimes fun); usually not important in themselves (the world won't end if we don't make the best possible decisions) but which do have to be decided, one way or another. Stuff like the rules for naming asteroids. Or at what hour the standard Julian day begins. Or the definition of the standard equation to be used to extrapolate the brightness of asteroids observed at a variety of phase angles, to the value at zero phase angle. Or if Pluto... never mind.

Since the tiny nation that pays my salary (if I had one) wants to be recognized as a nation, it feels strongly that it should be represented at the IAU. So every three years I get a trip to some fun location. Kyoto, Japan. (Where I was, instead of attending beamjockey's wedding.) Sydney, Australia. Prague, Czech Republic. The Hague, The Netherlands. Manchester, UK. (Don't snort like that, I actually enjoyed Manchester. It reminds me a lot of my home town, Detroit, a sports-mad blue collar town that gets no respect from the rest of the world...)

Since I actually show up to these things regularly, I wind up getting elected to posts and appointed to committees. I dodged a bullet this time; by one vote I avoided being the present-Elect of Division III. But the most fun, to me, is sitting on the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature. We get to approve the proposed names of craters on Mercury or plains on Venus.

And so to my friends in Montreal... this past year, we named a crater on Mars for Isaac Asimov, and approved the theme for plains on Titan as "names of planets in the Dune series." I've done my part to keep SF alive in the universe.

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