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Virtual astronomy: Coronavirus sparks new model for scientific conferences

As the novel coronavirus spreads, forcing people to stay home and upheaving industries, it is sparking a new model for astronomical gatherings — both in the short term, and beyond. And the astronomy community is ready.


Jonathan Lunine

Jonathan Lunine

Professor of the Physical Sciences

Jonathan Lunine, professor of physics and chair of the astronomy department at Cornell University, says most scientific exchanges already happen by teleconferencing and the coronavirus crisis may force a long-term rethinking of scientific gatherings that reduces travel.

Lunine says:

"The biggest direct impact on astronomers is the cancellation of essentially all scientific conferences in the near term and, in some cases, efforts to put future ones online. We may actually see a new model for scientific conferences evolve from this that reduces the number of in-person events, with all of the associated benefits that less travel provides in the long-term.

“Had we been in this situation 25 years ago, it would have been catastrophic for the exchange of scientific information, but today we do most of our scientific exchanges with our colleagues by teleconferencing. That’s true for science teams on missions as well. And many observatories have gone to remote observing, where a small staff is always on hand but the astronomers who have time allocated for a given observation aren’t onsite for the observations themselves."

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