Yesterday was the first day of AbSciCon 2017 in Mesa, Arizona.
Phoenix is not my favorite town; it’s got all the brutal heat (and then some) that Tucson gets, without a tenth of Tucson’s charm. That said, it’s been fairly pleasant so far, only getting into the 80’s yesterday. The hotel restaurant is pretty lame, but there is decent food about a ten-minute walk away.
Yesterday started with a bizarre plenary talk about planetary protection. This is a big deal in the astrobiology community, the concern that sending probes to potentially habitable worlds such as Europa and Enceladus could contaminate them with Earth life. It’s also a harder problem to solve than it sounds like, partly because advanced electronics of the sort that are likely to run a probe don’t get along well with the things we typically use to sterilize equipment: bleach, extreme heat, radiation, and the like. The talk used a real-time interactive system, allowing the speaker to ask a question and display the results on the screen in real time. Multiple choice questions displayed as bar graphs, fill-in-the-blanks as word clouds, both changing from second to second as new answers came in.