President's Letter - December, 2019

American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
Mon, 12/16/2019 - 15:01

AAVSO December 2019 President’s Letter

2019 has been a good year for AAVSO. Our October annual meeting in Las Cruces was a great success! Over one hundred people attended the meeting. Presentation topics included pulsating stars (mostly RR Lyraes), exoplanets, VSX management, and TESS observations and analysis. The new “how-to” hour included discussions on observing and analysis techniques for both visual and CCD observers.  About 50 members joined the Monday field trip to Sunspot and Apache Point. The tours were well-run; seeing the assembly process for the spectroscopic fiber bundles was particularly interesting.

Ninety percent of the post-meeting survey responders rated the presentations as good and excellent.

One of the meeting high points was the lunchtime breakout session for the AAVSO sections. Members had the opportunity to meet people they’ve only had email contact with for years. The high energy level in the room reminded us how important observing sections are to members. This past summer, Stella initiated an effort to invigorate the sections and expand the role of our volunteer section leaders. She’s increasing HQ involvement working with the leaders to make sections even more successful. The HQ staff and leaders are currently developing a section engagement plan.  Our goals are to increase communication among leaders and better organize how they communicate with section members.  Ideas for each section include maintaining priority target lists, actively engaging members in projects and campaigns, and strengthening collaboration with professionals.  We want section members to get to know each other and share ideas and project initiatives among themselves. We also plan to highlight section activities through online media and active participation in future meetings.

Another discussion topic in Las Cruces was the role of AAVSO meetings – and specifically, how many meetings occur each year. The Board set a goal to continue our two meetings a year format.  We recently firmed up our plans to have a joint meeting with the Society of Astronomical Sciences (SAS). The 2020 joint SAS-AAVSO Symposium will be held June 11-12-13, in Ontario, California.  The conference hotel will be the Ontario Gateway hotel.  The agenda will be similar to previous SAS Symposia:  Workshops on Thursday (June 11), and Technical Sessions on Friday and Saturday (June 12-13).

We also discussed the status of our strategic planning work at our Las Cruces meeting. We announced The Harvard Business School Association of  Boston ( Community Action Partners selected AAVSO for a pro-bono consulting engagement to assist our strategic planning work.  Their involvement ensures we are asking the right questions and are objective as we develop our strategic plan.

This consulting team (referred to as “CAP”) is composed of eight very talented and experienced individuals. They are currently interviewing AAVSO members, former members, staff, Board members, and others from the general astronomy community.  During the first half of 2020, we will develop our strategic plan.  We’ll present a draft version at our Joint SAS meeting, and final plan at next year’s annual meeting in Somerville, MA.

During the first phases of our strategic planning work, we realized many professional astronomers are unaware of AAVSO.  They do not know of the work and talent of our members.  For this reason, Stella and I are conducting a “Town Hall” AAVSO session at the upcoming AAS meeting.  We will also have a booth set up, enabling us to interact with AAS members.  Our goal is to increase AAVSO’s visibility in the community and hopefully stimulate opportunities for future joint initiatives.

The year is quickly ending.  Some of you make annual gifts to various non-profit organizations at year-end.  If so, we hope you will consider AAVSO in your plan.  More importantly, year-end is a time to look both backward at the past and forward to the future.  AAVSO has made major contributions to the advancement of astronomy and basic scientific knowledge over the past 108 years.  As we look to the future, we see an expanding role for amateurs.  In addition to supporting scientific research, our organization is a place for members to meet and work with people having similar interests.  One word that often comes up when we talk about our future is – fun!  Enjoy being an AAVSO member!

I wish everyone a happy holiday season.  If you are an observer, enjoy the long nights (if you live in the northern hemisphere!), and if you live south of the equator, have faith.  Nights will be getting longer soon!

Clear skies!