From the Program Director

by Victor Davis

The March 2021 meeting of the AAAP will take place (virtually) on Tuesday, 9th at 7:30 PM. (See Joining the Meeting with Zoom below for details). This meeting is open to AAAP members and the general public. Due to the number of possible attendees, we will use the Waiting Room. This means when you login into Zoom you will not be taken directly to the meeting. The waiting room will be opened at 7:00 PM. Prior to the meeting start time (7:30 PM) you may socialize with others in the waiting room. The meeting room has a capacity of 100 people.

For the Q&A session, you may ask your question using chat or may unmute yourself and ask your question directly to the speaker. To address background noise issues, we are going to follow the rules in the table below regarding audio. If you are not speaking, please remember to mute yourself. You are encouraged, but not required to turn your video on.

Meeting EventParticipant Can Speak?Participant Can Self-Unmute?
Director Rex’s General RemarksYesYes
Program Chair Victor’s  Speaker IntroductionYesYes
Speaker PresentationNoNo
Q&A SessionStart All on MuteYes                                    
5-minute bio break YesYes
Journal Club presentationStart All on MuteNo
Business MeetingStart All on MuteYes
Director’s closing remarksNoNo
Only the Business part of the meeting will be locked.

Featured Speaker: Stevenson Professor of Astrophysics at Vanderbilt  University, Keivan Stassun will give a presentation entitled, The Royal Road: Eclipses and Transits in the Era of Gaia and TESS.

In 1992, the first exoplanets were discovered by measuring the slight timing variations in rotating pulsars. Since then, we’ve pointed increasingly sophisticated ground- and space-based instruments at more normal stars, hoping to image their planets directly, or to see the stars blink, wobble, or lens in ways that reveal orbiting companions. The current tally of exoplanets tops out at about 4,400-and very much still counting. Out of the many hot Jupiters and mini Neptunes we’ve also spotted rocky planets, a few mirroring Earth in size, density, and habitability. Prof. Stassun will discuss the ways in which eclipses and transits of stars by their companions – utilizing light curves from the NASA TESS mission and parallaxes from the Gaia satellite – can be used to determine the fundamental properties of stars and characteristics of their planets by the thousands, and with a precision never before possible.

Prof. Keivan Stassun is the Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University. He earned undergraduate degrees in physics and astronomy from UC Berkeley and a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Wisconsin. Prof. Stassun was a NASA Hubble postdoctoral fellow before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 2003. Prof. Stassun’s research on stars and exoplanets has appeared in more than 350 peer-reviewed journal articles. He is a co-investigator for the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, and is the founding director of the Vanderbilt Initiative in Data-Intensive Astrophysics, through which his group participates in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and other large-scale collaborations. Prof. Stassun is an elected Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Astronomical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has received recognition for his scholarship and teaching, including a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, the Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and was recently named Mentor of the Year by the AAAS.

Prof. Stassun is a national leader in initiatives promoting diversity in astronomy and space science. The Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program, which he founded, has become one of the nation’s top producers of PhDs to underrepresented minorities in the physical sciences. He has served on the NSF Committee for Equal Opportunity in Science and Engineering, and is a recipient of the American Physical Society’s Nicholson Medal for Human Outreach.

Prof. Stassun recently launched the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation, focused on advancing science and engineering through the engagement and advancement of individuals with autism. Prof. Stassun’s autism activism became newsworthy late last year when the CBS News program “60 Minutes” highlighted his recruitment of Dan Burger, a data scientist on the autism spectrum, to help make sense of the massive amounts of data coming from the Kepler space telescope. Making a virtue of his unique talents to discern patterns in data, Mr. Burger invented a software tool that produced a new way of judging the sizes and ages of stars based on how vigorously they flicker in the night sky.

Prof. Stassun is the author and presenter of a course for The Learning Company, “The Life and Death of Stars,” a visual and intellectual feast describing the life cycles of stars and their evolution within stellar nurseries.

March’s Journal Club Presentation: Surabhi Agarwal will speak on her visit to Jantar Mantar Observatory in India. She will talk about the history of these masonry instruments.

AAAP webcast:  This month’s AAAP meeting, beginning with Rex’s opening remarks and ending at the break before the business meeting, will be webcast live on YouTube and recorded for subsequent public access on AAAP’s YouTube channel. Be aware that your interactions during this segment, including questions to our guest speaker, may be recorded for posterity. Here is YouTube live link

Using Zoom: While we are, social distancing the AAAP Board has chosen to use Zoom for our meetings, based our belief that many members have already have used Zoom and its ease of learning. One of its great features is you can choose whether you want to install the software on your computer or use it within your browser.

How to Join the March Meeting: For the meeting, we are going to follow a simple two-step process:

  1. Please make sure you have Zoom installed on your computer. You do not need a Zoom account or need to create one to join the meeting. Nor are you required to use a webcam.
  2. Please visit our website for the link to the meeting
  3. This session will be recorded and saved on YouTube. Send me an email at if you have any concerns.

NOTE: We plan to open the meeting site 30 minutes to the 7:30 start time. This way you won’t have to rush to join the meeting. A maximum of 100 attendees can join the meeting.

More Information: The Zoom site has many training videos most are for people who are hosting a meeting. If you’re unsure how Zoom works you might want to view the videos on how to join a meeting or how to check your computer’s audio and video before the meeting.

We hope to make these short presentations a regular feature of our monthly meetings. If you are interested in presenting a topic of interest, please contact either or We’d like to keep our momentum going!

Upcoming Programs: Here’s a look ahead at upcoming guest speakers. We’re expecting to conduct virtual meetings for the remainder of this academic year. In an effort to turn necessity into a virtue, we’re casting our recruiting net a bit wider than usual, inviting speakers for whom a visit to Princeton would be impractical or inconvenient. Suggestions for guest speakers for September, 2021 and beyond are welcome.

April 13 – Alexandra Kroll Davatzes: Prof. Davatzes is an Associate Professor at Temple University. Her talk will describe Precambrian Meteor Impacts and Implications for Early Earth.

May 11 – Alex Hayes: Prof. Hayes is an Associate Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University and Director of its Spacecraft Planetary Image Facility. He will speak on Ocean Worlds of the Outer Solar System, plus he will give a brief report on the Mars 2020 mission.

June 8 – Anna Schauer: Dr. Schauer, a new mother, is the NASA Hubble Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. She leads the team researching what she’s nicknamed the Ultimately Large Telescope, a lunar liquid-mirror telescope that will aim at investigating First Star Formation.

Looking forward to you joining us on Zoom or YouTube Live webcast at the March meeting!

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