Today was my first of two days at Penn State, hosted by Caryl Gronwall (PSU). I had many interesting conversations, too many to mention in detail. Some highlights were the following:
I had lunch with the HETDEX team, who updated me on the project status, and described some of the data properties. We discussed ways you might extract small signals from the enormous numbers of sky fibers that they will have. One point of philosophy: Imaging provides very good photometric measurements; spectroscopy usually does not. Why the difference? It is primarily because images have lots of blank regions where sky can be estimated and very precisely removed, and the point-spread function can be observed. HETDEX will have spectra in a big grid of pixels, so it will have all these properties but in a spectrograph. It might end up making some of the most precise spectrophotometric measurements ever!
Bastien (PSU) and I talked about her photometric-variability method for estimating stellar gravities. We made a prediction that the variability amplitude (which varies non-linearly with logg) might vary linearly with g. She promised to test that and get back to me.
Brandt (PSU) and I discussed the frightening situation with funding, hardware building, projects, and discovery in astronomy. How do we make sure we bring up the next generation of instrument builders if we can't keep funding hardware teams through the standard channels? I have some worries about the future of the profession: Once grant acceptance rates go below some value, the culture (and tenure success rate) might change dramatically, and the profession might lose important skills and people and ideas. We also talked about data-driven models of quasars!