.Astronomy7: Countdown to Day Zero – Part 1

At this year’s .Astronomy 7 conference, we’ll be running a pre-conference training day (‘Day Zero’) to showcase previous Hack Day projects and to introduce some of the tools participants have found most useful for their Hack Day experience and general work flow. Day Zero is optional, but we encourage everyone to attend, because Day Zero is about sharing skills, ideas, and lessons learned from previous .Astronomy participation and continuing professional development. During Day Zero we will run a number of short tutorials – disguised as one giant hack – to help make all participants feel more confident about jumping into the hacking arena.

why is day zero important?

Traditional astronomy conferences usually focus on a specific subdomain and are primarily used as a forum for researchers to present rigorous scientific outcomes, to network for the next job, seek the best future hire, and/or visit with old colleagues and friends. Rarely do researchers get to create innovative projects in collaboration with non-astronomy researchers, data scientists, freelance/tech-industry software developers, education professionals, and science communicators, or attend hackathons.  The .Astronomy conferences offer a playground for astronomy that is more specific than a general hack day, but more dynamic than a normal scientific astronomy meeting.

We aim to introduce a range of skills that will not only be useful for managing larger data sets coming online in the near future, but also in a context of professions other than the traditional academic astronomy career. The rise of fellowship programs, for example the Insight Data Fellows and Science to Data Science programs can offer a variety of careers options for trained astronomy professionals.  Skilled data scientists are in great demand in the worldwide job market and researchers with analytical backgrounds are being offered jobs in leading tech-companies. We hope to offer astronomers access a broader skillset and the opportunity to learn how to work collaboratively on hack-like projects.

Over the past six years the cumulative .Astronomy community has grown to become a connected group of people contributing uniquely to professional astronomy, international science education, and general science awareness among the public.  Day Zero is for sharing experiences and lessons from the past and present in order to build interesting and better tools for the future in all these arenas.

The idea for Day Zero is to teach various tools by treating them as steps in one big hack (perhaps). For example we might want to start by data-mining the the social web (for example scraping the #dotastroTwitter feed), then  populate a database hosted on a droplet server (DevOps: SQL, VMs), then  create a word association visualisation using D3js (Javascript, HTML, CSS) and finally, document everything in an IPython Notebook or on blog (either on GitHub or hosted with the database). Or we may take the more traditional approach of example based tutorials. Personally, I’m excited about learning new data visualisation tools, for example learning how to integrate tools like Aladin Lite into a research webpage, and learning about APIs and data archives.

This year we are also creating an official .Astronomy7 Day Zero Guide for conference participants. The guide will contain details about all previous .Astronomy Hack Day projects as well as information about our favourite web tools (and installation notes) and code repositories. We intend to make the Day Zero Guide available to the wider astronomy community  as a permanent resource for everyday research.

We are very excited about bringing Day Zero to .Astronomy and plan to make it just as fun and innovative as the rest of the conference.

Watch this space…