Status Report

COVID-19 and the 236th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society

By SpaceRef Editor
March 16, 2020
Filed under ,

This announcement is in lieu of a regular media advisory for the 236th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), currently scheduled 31 May to 4 June in Madison, Wisconsin. Plans for the meeting are in flux. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the AAS is looking into converting #AAS236 from an on-site/in-person conference to a fully remote/virtual conference. A decision is expected within weeks.

However the meeting goes forward, the AAS will offer complimentary press registration to bona fide working journalists and public-information officers (PIOs), as usual. Our eligibility requirements are online at If you were considering attending the Madison meeting in person, or if you were planning to cover it remotely by watching our press-conference webcasts, it makes sense to request press registration as soon as possible to ensure that you receive all relevant communications about whether, when, and how the meeting will occur.

To request complimentary press registration, send an email message to AAS Press Officer Dr. Rick Fienberg at with your name and media affiliation (or “freelance” if applicable). Upon confirming your eligibility, he’ll send you the URL of an online registration form and the required press-registration code.

AAS 236 & the COVID-19 Pandemic

The AAS staff and Board of Trustees (BoT) have been closely monitoring and following daily updates and advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On Thursday, 12 March, Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin declared a public health emergency in light of the worsening outbreak in the state. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services immediately followed up with a recommendation that all nonessential gatherings of 250 or more people be cancelled or postponed. The next day the Trump administration declared a national emergency, and the CDC is now recommending that organizations cancel or postpone in-person events involving 50 or more people anywhere in the United States. Under these circumstances, proceeding with our normal summer meeting this year is simply not possible.

If we can pull it off, holding a virtual AAS 236 would likely have positive long-term effects. The AAS Sustainability Committee has been wrestling with how to lower the carbon footprint of AAS meetings and has been encouraging the Society to experiment with ways of enabling remote access to some of our regular science sessions (for several years we have live-streamed only our press conferences). Until recently, every software product we explored for this purpose left a lot to be desired. Now, though, virtual conferencing technology appears to have proliferated, matured, and become more affordable. We are optimistic that AAS 236 could not only be successful as an all-digital conference, but also that it could serve as a trailblazer to a future of more inclusive and sustainable AAS meetings.

The AAS staff and BoT are working closely with the AAS Vice-Presidents and volunteer leaders to explore how plenary lectures, regular oral sessions, poster sessions, and press conferences might be integrated into a fully virtual conference. We are also investigating the possibility of building a virtual exhibit hall where online attendees could wander through and learn about new books, products, and services from the many organizations and companies that support the astronomical sciences and regularly set up booths at AAS meetings.

We have many decisions yet to make, including whether and when to hold a virtual conference (we’re no longer tied to the 31 May-4 June dates) and what technologies we should use. Assuming we decide to proceed, we’ll then announce the schedule and procedures for connecting to the conference as a speaker, audience member, exhibitor, reporter, or other attendee. Please check the AAS 236 website ( and watch for further media advisories.

See for a description of the 236th AAS meeting in Madison as it was originally envisioned.

Even with the entire AAS staff and many of its volunteer leaders working from home until further notice, we strive to continue fulfilling our mission to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe and will do all we can during this pandemic to keep our employees, members, volunteers, and other stakeholders as healthy and secure as possible.

Dr. Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x116; cell: +1 857-891-5649

SpaceRef staff editor.