10 mins read 12 Jul 2022

2022 Astronomical Society of Australia Science Meeting Wrap Up

The 2022 Astronomical Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting was held from June 27 to July 1, a hybrid event of in-person gathering at multiple hubs around the country and online participation. Here are some of the highlights of the week-long conference hosted this year by the University of Tasmania.

Astronomical Society of Australia's Annual Scientific Meeting - June 27 to July 1, 2022. Credit: ASA.

Astronomers gather for another hybrid conference

Following the success of the hybrid conference in last year’s meeting, the format continues into 2022. The Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) Annual Scientific Meeting was held in Hobart this year, hosted by the University of Tasmania. There were also local hubs in major cities and online participation options for attendees. With a jam-packed program with over 100 talks, around 60 posters and corresponding poster videos, there were plenty of research highlights and discussions to keep any scientist busy.  

The conference, held in winter each year, presents an opportunity for astronomers from across Australia and New Zealand to come together to share developments and highlights from various fields of astronomy ranging from stellar physics to cosmology. Many of the contributions to these meetings are by junior researchers, in fact over 40% of the talks were by students and over 20% by early career researchers. 

A downside to having so many talks is that there were a number of parallel sessions, making it impossible to attend them all! Many of us found ourselves hopping between physical rooms and zoom rooms to catch our favourite talks. I attended a number of talks from sessions on ‘Pulsars and magnetars’, ‘Supernovae and their progenitors’ and of course as a gravitational-wave astrophysicist, I attended (and presented at) the ‘Gravitational waves’ session. At the start of every session conference-goers also saw a poster video; these were definitely a fan favourite; showcasing the creative communication skills of our astronomy community.

In addition to the science gatherings, there were also a number of social events with participants seeing the sights in Hobart, taking a trip up Mount Wellington, and attending the much-anticipated conference dinner!

Conference dinner at Mures Upper Deck restaurant, Hobart. Credit: Shanika Galaudage.

Under the hybrid model, there were few in-person hubs. Unfortunately, the main hub in Tasmania (which I was at) had a portion of the participants (~36%) catching Covid-19, with in-person participation dropping by more than half by the end of the week. Overall, however, this hybrid model continues to be a success, making the conference more accessible and sustainable.

From modelling X-ray bursts to uncovering galactic structure

Each year the ASA sponsors a variety of prizes and awards, recognising the excellent contribution to astronomy and astrophysics by Australian and New Zealand researchers, across a variety of fields.

"Australian astronomers are among the best in the world, and the breadth of these prestigious awards shows why we lead the world in so many areas. It is a pleasure to recognise these examples of individual brilliance, as well as teamwork, and technical innovation,” says ASA President Professor John Lattanzio.

This year, the prize recipients' research covered analyses of different astrophysical phenomena, such as black holes, X-ray bursts, and galactic structures.  


Bok Prize - Maria Djuric

Maria Djuric (top right) and title ASA presentation slide. Credit: M. Djuric / ASA.

Maria Djuric, a student from the University of Sydney, was this year’s Bok Prize recipient. For her research, Maria used information from thousands of stars from GAIA data, finding that our Milky Way likely has just two arms, looking sort of like a swiss roll!

“We can see streams that are obviously part of a larger spiral but, when we look at a bunch of streams, we’re not sure if it’s just two arms wrapped up twice as much or if it’s four separate arms because we can just see a snippet of the galaxy,” says Maria.

Maria is now moving to University College London to pursue a PhD, when she will look at even more stars, up to 35 million, from the latest GAIA data release.

The Bok prize is awarded to recognise outstanding research in astronomy or a closely related field, by an Honours or eligible Masters student at an Australian university.


Honourable mention: Isaac Colleran

Selecting the ASA prize winners is always challenging for the judging panel. In light of that, the selection committee gave an honourable mention to Isaac Colleran from Curtin University for "Applications of Machine Learning for Classifying MWA Pulsar Candidates".

Code developed by Isaac was implemented in MWA, resulting in greatly improved search efficiency. The prize panel recognised the work was outstanding and of great impact.


Charlene Heisler Prize - Adelle Goodwin

Dr Adelle Goodwin (top right) and title ASA presentation slide. Credit: A. Goodwin / ASA.

In her PhD thesis titled “On the nature of accreting neutron stars” Dr Adelle Goodwin from Curtin University (formerly from Monash University) investigated the nature of neutron stars in accreting systems.

Adelle’s research focussed on studying one of the most extreme compact objects: neutron stars; in particular neutron stars with a companion that was transferring the matter to it. These sources are very bright in X-rays and sometimes produce bursts with the energy of 1000 Suns.

As part of her PhD research, she predicted an outburst from neutron star SAX J1808.4−3658, allowing researchers to examine the onset of such an event in detail for the first time. Adelle published 6 first-author papers during her PhD and is now a post-doctoral researcher at Curtin University.

The Charlene Heisler Prize is awarded for the most outstanding PhD thesis in Astronomy or a closely related field.


Louise Webster Prize - Adam Stevens

Dr Adam Stevens (top right) and title ASA presentation slide. Credit: A. Stevens / ASA.

Dr Adam Stevens, a researcher at The University of Western Australia/ICRAR, was the recipient of the Louise Webster Prize. Adam led a study that used a supercomputer to create simulations of galaxies; helping predict what radio telescopes might be able to capture in our skies today

“What’s wonderful about a simulation is you can track exactly what happens to a galaxy: you can play back the simulation and it can spit out data. Whereas, when you observe a galaxy, you just see how it is now” says Adam. These simulations help scientists better understand the evolution of galaxies.

The Louise Webster Prize is awarded for outstanding research by a scientist early in their post-doctoral career.


Anne Green Prize - Natasha Hurley-Walker

Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker (top right) and title ASA presentation slide. Credit: N. Hurley-Walker / ASA.

Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker, a researcher at Curtin University/ICRAR, is this year’s Anne Green Prize recipient for her work on the GaLactic and Extragalactic All-sky MWA (GLEAM) extragalactic catalogue.

Natasha and her team (which includes many early career researchers) utilised Australian telescopes to view the entire southern sky in radio. This work found and imaged ~100-1000s of black holes in distant galaxies! They also identified a remnant of a supernova that exploded 9,000 years ago.

The Anne Green Prize is awarded for a significant advance or accomplishment by a mid-career scientist.


Peter McGregor Prize 2022 -  CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope team

ASKAP dishes below the Milky Way. Credit: ASA supplied.

CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope team was recognised at this year’s ASA meeting. Dr Aidan Hotan received the Peter McGregor Prize on behalf of the ASKAP team.

ASKAP is the fastest radio telescope in the world, consisting of 36 dish antennas and a 30-square-degree field of view for each dish, the array can capture snapshots of the sky that are 100 times the size of the Moon.

In late 2020 the ASKAP radio telescope broke records, surveying the entire southern sky in just over 12 days as part of the Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey — mapping the radio sky in unprecedented detail. ASKAP’s capabilities have also contributed to some interesting discoveries and advancements including the discovery of Odd Radio Circles and localising Fast Radio Bursts.

The Peter McGregor Prize is awarded in recognition of exceptional achievement or innovation in astronomical instrumentation.

See our articles about some of the incredible science that has been done using ASKAP on our website! 

Students awards: presentations and posters

Many of the contributions to the meeting were student talks and posters and there were prizes awarded in three categories: 1) talks 2) posters and 3) poster videos. We can only imagine how tough the competition was for the judges, but in the end, the prizes were awarded to the following students, congratulations to all!  

Best student talks

Tied 1st place: Callan Wood (Curtin U) - "Time-Resolved VLBI Imaging of Jet Launching in an X-ray Binary" AND Nataliea Lowson (USQ) -  "When You Wish Upon A Planet: The Encapsulating Tail of KELT-9b"

Triple dead-heat 3rd place: Andrei Ristea (ICRAR) - “Stellar-gas kinematic misalignments as a probe of external processes shaping galaxy evolution” AND Teagan Clarke (Monash U) - “All binary black hole mergers may form dynamically: the eccentric perspective” AND Kat Ross (Curtin U) - "Looking through rainbow coloured glasses: The importance of spectral coverage in variability surveys"

Best student poster

1st place: Ellie Lietinger (U Queensland) - "A spatially complete view of multiple stellar populations in Galactic globular clusters"

2nd place: Kateryna Andrych (Macquarie U) - "Second-generation proto-planetary disks around evolved binary stars"

3rd place: Elli Borchert (Monash U) - "On the rise times in FU Orionis events"

Best student posters videos

Tied 1st place: Simon Lee (U Adelaide) - "Towards a Network of Cherenkov Telescopes" AND Kirsten Banks (UNSW, SpaceAustralia’s resident TikTokker) - "Investigating the spectro-seismic connection of giant stars"

3rd place: Elli Borchert (Monash U) - "On the rise times in FU Orionis events"

Some final thoughts: science means collaboration

A growing theme we find at conferences is “collaboration” with many projects that are presented at the ASA using observations and data put together by large collaborations. As part of his presentation, Dr Adam Stevens flipped the script and highlighted the efforts of the people who have helped him on his scientific journey, concisely stating that:

Research is rarely about the individual

a statement that rings true across many scientific projects today.

We are in an era of big surveys and big data, and without scientists working together, progress would reach an almost standstill. It’s important to acknowledge that many early career researchers invest a lot of time and effort into collaboration efforts, they are truly the glue that keeps collaboration work moving forward. 

While many awards still recognise the individual, awards such as the Peter McGregor Prize are a step in the right direction; recognising that teams of scientists are revolutionising the way we do astronomy. From the people behind the instruments to those who process the data, every single step is needed to advance our understanding of the universe. 

And that’s a wrap!

Main auditorium from the in-person hub at the University of Tasmania, the host institution. Credit: Shanika Galaudage.

The ASA Annual Scientific Meeting allows the Australian and New Zealand astronomy communities to come together and share their science. The hybrid format of the conference helped ensure its success with a week of amazing and exciting science.

From the team to the AUS/NZ space community, we wish all award winners, finalists and presenters a huge congratulations - our part of the globe is truly making key contributions to astrophysics and space.

Make sure you check out the #ASAASM2022 hashtag to see all the amazing scientific content from this meeting and the ASA website for links to all the incredible talks!