Reaching New Heights in Astronomy – ESO Long Term Perspectives [IMA]

A comprehensive description of ESO in the current global astronomical context, and its plans for the next decade and beyond, are presented. This survey covers all aspects of the Organisation, including the optical-infrared programme at the La Silla Paranal Observatory, the submillimetre facilities ALMA and APEX, the construction of the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope and the science operation of these facilities. An extension of the current optical/infrared/submillimetre facilities into multi-messenger astronomy has been made with the decision to host the southern Cherenkov Telescope Array at Paranal. The structure of the Organisation is presented and the further development of the staff is described within the scope of the long-range financial planning. The role of Chile is highlighted and expansion of the number of Member States beyond the current 15 is discussed. The strengths of the ESO model, together with challenges as well as possible new opportunities and initiatives, are examined and a strategy for the future of ESO is outlined.

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T. Zeeuw
Fri, 6 Jan 17

Comments: 26 pages, 17 figures. Appears in The Messenger, December 2016

Quantitative Evaluation of Gender Bias in Astronomical Publications from Citation Counts [IMA]

We analyze the role of first (leading) author gender on the number of citations that a paper receives, on the publishing frequency and on the self-citing tendency. We consider a complete sample of over 200,000 publications from 1950 to 2015 from five major astronomy journals. We determine the gender of the first author for over 70% of all publications. The fraction of papers which have a female first author has increased from less than 5% in the 1960s to about 25% today. We find that the increase of the fraction of papers authored by females is slowest in the most prestigious journals such as Science and Nature. Furthermore, female authors write 19$\pm$7% fewer papers in seven years following their first paper than their male colleagues. At all times papers with male first authors receive more citations than papers with female first authors. This difference has been decreasing with time and amounts to $\sim$6% measured over the last 30 years. To account for the fact that the properties of female and male first author papers differ intrinsically, we use a random forest algorithm to control for the non-gender specific properties of these papers which include seniority of the first author, number of references, total number of authors, year of publication, publication journal, field of study and region of the first author’s institution. We show that papers authored by females receive 10.4$\pm$0.9% fewer citations than what would be expected if the papers with the same non-gender specific properties were written by the male authors. Finally, we also find that female authors in our sample tend to self-cite more, but that this effect disappears when controlled for non-gender specific variables.

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N. Caplar, S. Tacchella and S. Birrer
Mon, 31 Oct 16

Comments: Abridged version to be submitted to Nature Astronomy. Comments welcome. For readers with very little time, the central result of the paper is covered by Figure 6 (Section 5)

The contrivance of Neptune [EPA]

Celebrating 170th anniversary of the discovery of Neptune, I review the story of the discovery that startled the world. The story is an interplay of scientific triumph and human weakness and an example of how science works in a socio-political context.

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D. Krajnovic
Fri, 21 Oct 16

Comments: A somewhat expanded version of the article published in A&G (October 2016). It differs in two additional text boxes pertaining to the Titius-Bode rule and the naming of the planet, and a correction to the table with pre-discovery sightings of Neptune. 17 pages, two figures and six explanatory boxes. Numeration of figures, tables and boxes is different from the published version

The Astropy Problem [IMA]

The Astropy Project (this http URL) is, in its own words, “a community effort to develop a single core package for Astronomy in Python and foster interoperability between Python astronomy packages.” For five years this project has been managed, written, and operated as a grassroots, self-organized, almost entirely volunteer effort while the software is used by the majority of the astronomical community. Despite this, the project has always been and remains to this day effectively unfunded. Further, contributors receive little or no formal recognition for creating and supporting what is now critical software. This paper explores the problem in detail, outlines possible solutions to correct this, and presents a few suggestions on how to address the sustainability of general purpose astronomical software.

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D. Muna, M. Alexander, A. Allen, et. al.
Wed, 12 Oct 16

Comments: N/A

Building an Inclusive AAS – The Critical Role of Diversity and Inclusion Training for AAS Council and Astronomy Leadership [IMA]

Diversity, equity and inclusion are the science leadership issues of our time. As our nation and the field of astronomy grow more diverse, we find ourselves in a position of enormous potential and opportunity: a multitude of studies show how groups of diverse individuals with differing viewpoints outperform homogenous groups to find solutions that are more innovative, creative, and responsive to complex problems, and promote higher-order thinking amongst the group. Research specifically into publications also shows that diverse author groups publish in higher quality journals and receive higher citation rates. As we welcome more diverse individuals into astronomy, we therefore find ourselves in a position of potential never before seen in the history of science, with the best minds and most diverse perspectives our field has ever seen. Despite this enormous growing potential, and the proven power of diversity, the demographics of our field are not keeping pace with the changing demographics of the nation, and astronomers of colour, women, LGBT individuals, people with disabilities, and those with more than one of these identities still face “chilly” or “hostile” work environments in the sciences. If we are to fully support all astronomers and students in reaching their full scientific potential, we must recognize that most of us tend to overestimate our ability to support our minoritized students and colleagues, that our formal education system fails to prepare us for working in a multicultural environment, and that most of us need some kind of training to help us know what we don’t know and fill those gaps in our education. To that end, diversity and inclusion training for AAS council and leadership, heads of astronomy departments, and faculty search committees should be a basic requirement throughout our field.

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C. Brinkworth, A. Skaer, C. Prescod-Weinstein, et. al.
Tue, 11 Oct 16

Comments: 7 pages

Gender Systematics in Telescope Time Allocation at ESO [CL]

The results of a comprehensive statistical analysis of gender systematics in the time allocation process at European Southern Observatory (ESO) are presented. The sample on which the study is based includes more than 13000 Normal and Short proposals, submitted by about 3000 principal investigators (PI) over eight years. The genders of PIs, and of the panel members of the Observing Programmes Committee (OPC), were used, together with their career level, to analyse the grade distributions and the proposal success rates. Proposals submitted by female PIs show a significantly lower probability of being allocated time. The proposal success rates (defined as number of top ranked runs over requested runs) are 16.0$\pm$0.6% and 22.0$\pm$0.4% for females and males, respectively. To a significant extent the disparity is related to different input distributions in terms of career level. The seniority of male PIs is significantly higher than that of female PIs, with only 34% of the female PIs being professionally employed astronomers (compared to 53% for male PIs). A small, but statistically significant, gender-dependent behaviour is measured for the OPC referees: both genders show the same systematics, but they are larger for males than females. The PI female/male fraction is very close to 30/70; although far from parity, the fraction is higher than that observed, for instance, among IAU membership.

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F. Patat
Wed, 5 Oct 16

Comments: 10 pages, 7 figures. To appear in the ESO Messenger (n. 165, 2)

Space Development and Space Science Together, an Historic Opportunity [IMA]

The national space programs have an historic opportunity to help solve the global-scale economic and environmental problems of Earth while becoming more effective at science through the use of space resources. Space programs will be more cost-effective when they work to establish a supply chain in space, mining and manufacturing then replicating the assets of the supply chain itself so it grows to larger capacity. This has become achievable because of advances in robotics and artificial intelligence. It is roughly estimated that developing a lunar outpost that relies upon and also develops the supply chain will cost about 1/3 or less of the existing annual budgets of the national space programs. It will require a sustained commitment of several decades to complete, during which time science and exploration become increasingly effective. At the end, this space industry will capable of addressing global-scale challenges including limited resources, clean energy, economic development, and preservation of the environment. Other potential solutions, including nuclear fusion and terrestrial renewable energy sources, do not address the root problem of our limited globe and there are real questions that they may be inadequate or too late. While industry in space likewise cannot provide perfect assurance, it is uniquely able to solve the root problem, and it gives us an important chance that we should grasp. What makes this such an historic opportunity is that the space-based solution is obtainable for free, because it comes as a side-benefit of doing space science and exploration within their existing budgets. Thinking pragmatically, it may take some time for policymakers to agree that setting up a complete supply chain is an achievable goal, so this paper describes a strategy of incremental progress.

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P. Metzger
Tue, 6 Sep 16

Comments: 38 pages. Accepted for publication in Space Policy journal