In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and senior management at the University of Bath have come to the difficult decision to postpone the National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2020) conference. The conference was due to take place in Bath from 12-17 July.
We all find ourselves in an unprecedented and rapidly evolving situation, with governments around the world revising their official guidelines on travel and social contact on a daily basis. This makes it impossible for us to predict what awaits us this summer. What is clear, however, is that this is not the right time to push ahead with plans to organise a large gathering bringing together people from across the UK and the rest of the world. Even if a conference were to be lawful come July, it would surely be reckless to expose our community to the unnecessary risk of coronavirus transmission.
Please rest assured that the conference is being postponed, not cancelled. The University of Bath is still entirely committed to hosting NAM. With so much remaining unknown about the pandemic, it is not possible for us to fix a new date quite yet, however we are tentatively hopeful that the conference can go ahead in the summer of 2021.
So much time and dedication has gone into preparing for NAM 2020 – from the RAS and University staff, and from volunteer conference session chairs and organisers too. We are truly sorry for the disappointment this announcement is sure to cause. In the run-up to the rescheduled conference, we plan to give priority to scientists who were due to present papers at this year’s conference and to sessions already accepted.
In the months ahead, we will be redoubling our efforts to stay connected with our community, updating people on our plans as they evolve. The Covid-19 situation has also strengthened our resolve to find innovative new ways for the astronomers, space scientists and geophysicists who planned to come to NAM 2020 this year to share their ideas.
There is no doubt that physical meetings will always play a part in the way scientists network and collaborate, but we are also eager to explore digital conference platforms, as we believe remote conferencing will be an important step forward in giving our participants dependable access to talks and meetings. Such virtual meetings hold great promise in making meetings both more inclusive and more environmentally sustainable. Inclusivity and reducing our carbon footprint are priorities for both the RAS and for the University of Bath.
As we research the options for streaming and digital conference solutions, we would very much welcome practical suggestions from our community – please send in your ideas.
A growing number of us will be working from home or self-isolating in the months ahead. Scientists with commitments to students will be absorbed by the logistics of taking their teaching online. It is going to be a busy and unusual time for us all. Despite the inevitable disruption to all of lives, it is hoped that we can all find a way to continue with our quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe and to add to humanity’s understanding of deep space.
All of us at the RAS and the University of Bath sincerely hope our community members and their families stay as healthy as possible.
We will be in touch again as soon as we have further news.