What is the impact of the outbreak on astronomical research? It’s not just the cancellation of the meeting

BEIJING, March 20 (Xinhua) — A terrible new coronary pneumonia pandemic is sweeping the globe, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the virus will affect our lives in every way, and even our research beyond earth.

What is the impact of the outbreak on astronomical research? It's not just the cancellation of the meeting

2019 New Coronary Virus Imagination

The rapid spread of severe respiratory diseases caused by the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has prompted countries around the world to take active measures to slow the spread of the epidemic. Most of the measures are mainly to reduce local and long-distance travel and avoid large gatherings, including classes and meetings. Keeping social distance and working remotely is the norm. For astronomers, while they largely support such measures, which are for public health reasons, they are beginning to think about what they will mean for their careers as the situation changes.

“It’s like a sudden, massive attack, and I feel like I didn’t do anything last week because there was so much going on,” said Meg Urry, an astronomer at Yale University. We do need information, but at the same time it’s overwhelmed by it, so it’s really hard to deal with and it’s hard to work efficiently. “

Cancellation of academic meetings

One of the most visible effects of the spread of the new coronavirus has been since early March, when numerous meetings were cancelled. The first to announce the cancellation was the March meeting of the American Physical Society, scheduled for March 2 in Denver.

Other meetings have been canceled, including the American Physical Society’s April meeting in Washington, D.C., and the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), scheduled for March 16 in Texas. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) announced on March 13th that it was studying whether to change the June meeting to a digital conference.

“I’d rather make a decision earlier than it’s too late to minimize the cost and complexity of the attendees,” Megan Donahue, president of the American Astronomical Society and an astronomer at Michigan State University, said in an interview. We can be cleaner and easier to focus on. “

For Donahue, the American Astronomical Society’s decision-making is important to the point of what is really possible between now and summer. “We want to make sure that we set goals for ourselves to achieve, rather than spending a lot of energy doing certain things, and we find that we can’t,” she said. Of course, there are some areas where you may also experience failure. “

Astronomers such as Donahue stress that reducing conference dependence on travel has been one of the goals of academia. “It’s a good experiment, and it might be wise in this time period,” Meg Early said of how to modify the AAS meeting time. “

However, Meg Erry and other astronomers are also concerned that, in the foreseeable future, the absence of face-to-face meetings, large or small, could bring some damage. ” (Digital meetings) are not the same as working with your colleagues, eating and discussing ideas, and so on,” she said. “

Sarah Horst, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University, said in an interview that the opportunities offered by meetings to different people, and the impact of cancellation or digitization, vary, especially at different stages of the profession. She hoped that the academic community would take that into account in dealing with that situation.

“Obviously, it’s going to have an impact on the astronomy field in many different ways,” Horst said. It is almost certain that new professionals from minorities will be disproportionately affected, and they do not necessarily have some kind of network ingress and support structure that connects them to a secure web. “

To address this inequality, Horst listed young researchers who were supposed to attend the Moon and Planetary Science Conference and shared something related to academic pursuits. She hopes more high-profile researchers will take some time to learn about the list this week, when the conference is scheduled to take place.

“Try to connect these people and think about what we can do to support them,” Horst said. You can say hello to see if you can arrange a virtual coffee or something like that. “

These are the kind of personal interactions that Angela Marusiak, a ph.d. student at the University of Maryland, hopes to achieve at the Moon and Planetary Science Conference after completing her doctoral thesis this semester. She did not hesitate to support measures to control COVID-19, even as she was considering their impact on her. “It’s a bit disappointing,” she said of the cancellation, “and it’s going to be a good time to meet with other scientists in the field and highlight what I’ve been doing.” “

Impact of education

The COVID-19 outbreak caused Angela Maruschak to miss the chance to build an early academic network at the conference, but it wasn’t the only effect. Now, she needs to stay at home as much as possible to avoid getting sick, and she’s trying to get her papers.

The COVID-19 pandemic could also change the way Maruschak completes her public thesis defense, which she had planned to complete by the end of April. Anyone wishing to obtain a doctorate must respond through oral representations, usually in a room, for review by the degree grant committee. “One possibility is that I will eventually have to defend remotely and not be able to make a face-to-face statement, which will certainly increase the risk of video conferencing crashes and things like that,” Maruschak said.

Of course, it’s not just students who are about to graduate that will experience changes in their academic careers. Students of all grades found that their classes had been moved online, and some faced the problem of having to go home because of the complete closure of the campus. Even if they can go home, they will find that the home is also full of pain and uncertainty.

“However, our concern is that when students go home, they put pressure on one of their grandparents or parents in their personal lives, and the situation becomes more difficult,” Donahue said. It’s time to be kind to them, not to be too harsh. “

Faced with this situation, professors began to try to put the course online so that students could complete it online, at most weeks in advance. For astronomy courses, as with any science subject, reimagining an experiment-based course on the web can be particularly complex. Professors are faced not only with changes in the location of classes, but also with reimagining the content of lectures.

Mr Horst argues that students are unlikely to experience a successful semester because of the inevitable chaos of the transition to digitaleducation and other disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. “Students are going to finish the courses they need for the rest of the semester, and I’m a little worried about what the end result will be,” she said. “

Of course, not all students take courses in physics and astronomy. That’s also Rachel Paterno-Mahler’s main concern. She is an astrophysicist in the Keck Science Department, overseeing science courses at several Clermont institutions. “I’m also worried about my prep students, ” she said. ” “

Conducting remote research

In addition to education, academia faces another important issue: how to conduct new research. Astronomers are one step ahead of their peers in other fields in this area, according to several researchers.

First, astronomers tend to use digital tools to communicate over long distances. “The astronomy world is quite global, ” says Paterno-Mahler. Our collaborators are all over the world, we are used to teleconferencing, to e-mail and asynchronous communication. “

While some astronomers are still experimenting on Earth to keep the lab steamed, many of the data studied come from places where the COVID-19 outbreak is unlikely to spread. Getting the data can be tricky, but Emily Levesque, an astronomer at the University of Washington, says observation devices in space can handle these challenges.

She points out that while some ground-based observation facilities still require scientists to collect data in person, overall, the observatory’s on-site working hours have been running less and less since the late 1960s. However, only a few telescopes are fully automated and can be operated on site without any staff. Most observatories are somewhere in between and require some hands-on personnel, but not necessarily the scientists who make the observations.

“With the exception of automated telescopes, remote work means fewer people on site, or astronomers aren’t there, but not no one is there,” Leveske said. “Fortunately, these telescopes often rely on small staff and are mostly located in remote areas, which allows staff to maintain some distance from society.

For astronomers who want to use these instruments, “remote observation” does not necessarily mean that they can collect data from home or any other location that happens. Most of the work involving remote observations actually involves sending astronomers to specialized control rooms that are easier to reach than the observatory itself as communications and data centers to contact field staff. “It’s not your laptop and internet connection, ” says Erley. ” “

In the face of the new coronavirus control measures, it remains unclear how resilient these remote control rooms and the field work they rely on will be. “The telescope’s working time and access is a valuable resource, so it’s safe to say that as long as it’s safe, we’re going to try to get everything up and running,” Leveske said. “

While many observatories are also working to improve their remote observation capabilities as the new coronavirus outbreak spreads, telescopes have been forced to close their “eyes”. For example, a statement said the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile had developed a remote contingency plan for its Magellan telescope, which would then stop observationfor for at least two weeks from March 17.

“Given the value of telescope observation time in our industry, it is extremely rare to close an observatory and leave the telescope idle, usually only in the event of a serious natural disaster or for safety reasons,” Says Leveske. Explain how serious the evolving COVID-19 outbreak has become around the world. “

More questions

While it is easy to feel from news reports that the world is already mired in the epidemic, epidemiologists stress that the situation is still changing. It also means that the impact of the outbreak on astronomy will change.

Astronomers are bracing for the economic consequences of the spread of COVID-19 on stock exchanges and the labor market. “Universities’ budgets will be hit hard because they rely on endowment funds, and endowments will pay much less,” Mr. Errie said. All of these things will have a very negative impact, probably very similar to the 2008 recession. “She is particularly concerned about how teachers can find funding to pay for research that students do.

Another possible consequence in the coming months is that the scheduled launch of spacecraft missions will be disrupted by the outbreak. It is unclear to what extent strict cleanroom procedures will cushion measures aimed at stopping the new coronavirus during the construction of the launch facility. But one thing is certain: construction cannot be carried out remotely. After all, scientists and engineers can’t assemble a Mars rover in the living room.

In addition to all these specific effects, astronomers need to deal with the uncertainty of the ongoing crisis, just like everyone else. “The biggest disruption will be the changes in daily life and the underlying anxiety about what’s happening,” says Rachel Paterno-Mahler. (Any day)