Rumor Mill Update

by Danny Barringer on August 26, 2015

Now that we’ve begun a new academic year, the AstroBetter Rumor Mill has been wiped clean in preparation for another year of job searching. You can find the Faculty and Staff Rumor Mill page here, and the Postdoc and Term Rumor Mill page here.

Happy job hunting everyone!


Eric Jeschke ( is the head of the Software Division at Subaru Telescope, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.


Python in Astronomy 2015 Workshop Participants. Photo by Peter Teuben.

pythonsnakes-blackThe Python in Astronomy 2015 workshop was held from 20-24th April 2015 at the Lorentz Center, Leiden University, in the Netherlands. With a goal of mixing researchers, Python developers, users and educators in a stimulating, immersive environment, it featured presentations, tutorials, BOF discussions, unconference sessions, and coding sprints.

In addition to sharing information about state-of-the art Python Astronomy packages, the workshop focused on improving interoperability between such packages, provided training for new open-source contributors, and fostered discussions on developing a common set of educational materials for Python in astronomy.

A strong effort was made by the organizers to promote diversity in the workshop participants.  The meeting was hosted and sponsored by the Lorentz Center, with additional sponsoring by GitHub, NumFocus, Python Software Foundation and LCOGT.

An online proceedings of the workshop can be found here with links to recorded talks, talk slides, unconference summaries, pictures and more.  The consensus among the participants at the end of the workshop seemed to be a strong enthusiasm for more of the same!  Planning is already underway for second incarnation in spring 2016 at a different venue, with a possible outcome of the meeting becoming an annual event.  Interested in attending?  The 2016 conference is slated for 21-25 March in Seattle, WA. You can watch for details (or sign up to receive more information by email) at the 2016 workshop page.


As a community service, we here at AstroBetter would like to help you form teams that will compete for slots on the WFIRST Formulation Science Working Group.   The solicitation focuses on teams rather than individuals.  It’s not clear to us how experts in certain specialties are supposed to learn what teams are forming, or how teams are supposed to find certain experts they’re lacking.   Therefore, we’re hosting a “WIRST Find-a-team, find-an-expert” wiki page.  Astronomers who are interested in the WFIRST call are welcome to edit this wiki to add their name, contact info, whether they’re looking to join a team or looking for an expert, and the expertise sought or offered.  (Do not delete anyone’s posting or otherwise act unprofessionally on our wiki.)

Should we back up and give a 411?  OK, here goes.  NASA is soliciting proposals for Science Investigation Teams and Adjutant Scientists for the Wide-Field InfraRed Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which will result in the formation of a Formulation Science Working Group (FSWG) for the mission. WFIRST is the top-ranked large space mission recommended by the National Research Council (NRC) decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics for 2012-2021, New Worlds, New Horizons. While NASA is soliciting two individual “Adjutant Scientists”, most of the solicitation is seeking teams rather than individuals.  The teams are supposed to address a variety of science themes including dark energy, exoplanets, and general astrophysics.  (See the call — I’m summarizing here.)

Relevant links:  The main page for the solicitation.  Most of the meat is in Amendment D-11Also, there’s a FAQ.

Deadlines: Required Notices Of Intent (NOI) are due August 17, 2015, and the due date for submission of proposals is October 15, 2015.  (Note: the FAQ says that it’s OK to change some of the Co-Is after the NOI.)


Michael Zingale is a computational astrophysicist who enjoys blowing up stars and working on new algorithms to enable these simulations.  He is an Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook University on Long Island, NY.

Many of us have written notes for our classes or have searched online for notes written by our colleagues that we can use in our classes.  To help coordinate the effort of sharing and building texts for astrophysics topics, I started a github organization called the Open Astrophysics Bookshelf:

The basic idea is that we, as a community, can crowdsource texts on astrophysics topics and make these freely available (via the Creative Commons license) for anyone to use.  And since we tend to use LaTeX for our scientific writing, these texts can be easily managed by git version control.

Essentially, the Open Astro Bookshelf is just a github ( organization where different texts can be hosted as git repos.  There are two cases one can imagine for adding to the bookshelf.

  1. Many of us have our own set of notes (or a draft text) on a topic in our area of expertise, with varying degrees of polish.  In this case, you are starting off with something that is already substantially developed.  By hosting this text on the Open Astro Bookshelf, you gain input from the community—people can contribute changes via github pull requests.  These can be anything from typos, requests for clarification, figures, or entire chapters.  Since the work is hosted on github, all contributions will be noted in the git log, but a project can also include an author list noting the primary author, major contributors, other contributions, etc.
  2. There are some topics that we all know are in need of a good up-to-date text, for instance, to train students in techniques of our trade.  A Scientific Computing Cookbook is an example.  (Another idea suggested by a colleague is an AST 101 text).  In this case, we can start a text in a repo that is a stub, simply an outline, and rely on crowdsourcing to write the text from scratch.

Since everything is openly licensed, anyone can create mash-ups of the content to suit their needs.

In contrast to traditional books that go through a publisher, these texts are living.  They can continually be updated.  But don’t worry—we can still cite an “edition” via the git hash (it is quite straightforward to have a makefile put the git hash into the LaTeX source at compile time).

There are already some examples of each of the above cases up online.

I’ve moved my set of notes on Computational Astrophysical Hydrodynamics there, Mark Krumholz has put up his notes on Star Formation, and Ed Brown has contribute his Stellar Physics notes.  I’ve reached out to others in the field who have expressed interest in putting up their notes as well, so I hope for this to grow  quickly (especially now that it is summer).  I’d like to encourage anyone else who is interested to contact me, and we can setup a repo for your notes as well.

There is also an mostly empty template for a Scientific Computing Cookbook to share tips/techniques and good practices across our field—this latter one is a case where crowdsourcing can hopefully put something nice together.  This idea arose from discussions I’ve had with many of our computational astrophysics colleagues, and I’m told that a similar idea has surfaced among the astrobetter community.

As this is all new, there is still a lot to learn about how to best coordinate the different efforts.  I think that each text needs a lead (or leaders)—they set the tone of the text, make the initial organization issues, and will have the admin access to merge pull requests.  The number of people in this role can evolve with time as people become bigger contributors.  Anyone else in the community can interact via the normal github mechanism—pull requests and issues.

I’ve setup a mailing list to discuss these ideas as well:

(you can subscribe here:!forum/open-astro-books )

Please don’t hesitate to contribute.  There is a lot of potential for us to build up a bookshelf that covers a wide range of topics in our field, that is freely available to everyone (students certainly don’t like paying for books), and is continually brought up to date.

What texts do you think are needed?


Updates on ADS Interfaces and the Announcement of Bumblebee

by Guest July 20, 2015

Alberto Accomazzi (@aaccomazzi) is the Program Manager of the NASA Astrophysics Data System based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The Astrophysics Data System (ADS) is a tool for finding astronomy and planetary science publications. ADS currently has three different interfaces: ADS “Classic” — the one you all know and love, ADS “Labs” or “2.0” […]


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Why should I use Authorea to write my papers?

by Guest July 13, 2015

Matteo Cantiello is a theoretical astrophysicist at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and Authorea’s Chief Scientist. I am aware that a while back a lot of astronomers have tried out writing their research articles on Authorea, a web-based collaborative writing platform. Some were disappointed by the lack of certain advanced LaTeX features (e.g., deluxetables, […]


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Python/3D Visualization: A new book available for students and scientists

by Guest July 8, 2015

Brian Kent is an associate scientist with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory working on pipeline software for VLA and ALMA, and has interests in galaxy surveys, dynamics, and 3D graphics and visualization. A new book published by IOP is now available entitled “3D Scientific Visualization with Blender.” This work is written for a broad scientific […]


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The Starchive: An open access, open source database of the nearest stars and beyond

by Guest April 27, 2015

Angelle Tanner is an assistant professor at Mississippi State University with interests in multiple methods of exoplanet detection and characterization. Situation 1:You make a preliminary list of target stars using SIMBAD and then follow up with a tedious search through Vizier and individual papers for all the additional observational data you need to motivate a […]

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Fabric Conference Posters FTW!

by Guest March 25, 2015

Emily Rice is an assistant professor at the College of Staten Island and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. She is also responsible for those parody songs that get stuck in your head. Dearest Colleagues, I have printed my last paper conference poster and carried my last poster tube. Forsooth I […]


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Details and discussion about impending changes to ApJ and AJ

by Kelle February 13, 2015

During AAS225 in Seattle, there was an announcement about changes coming to the AAS Journals: Astrophysical Journal (ApJ), Astrophysical Journal Letters (ApJL), and the Astronomical Journal (AJ). These changes include lots of awesome things such as “linking articles directly to data archives, providing for video abstracts, improving figure presentation, making figures interactive, introducing the ability […]


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