World's top astronomers gather in Sydney
SYDNEY (AFP) Jul 11, 2003
About 2,000 of the world's top astronomers gather in Sydney this weekend for two weeks of cutting-edge debate on the state of the universe and human star-gazing.

Experts from around the globe will hold symposia on topics ranging from dark matter and blacks holes to planetary exploration, plans for building giant telescopes and the "recycling of intergalactic matter", organizers said.

The meeting is the 25th general assembly of the International Astronomical Union, the world's largest professional astronomers' body with more than 8,000 members worldwide.

"Run once every three years, the general assembly is one of the largest and most diverse meetings on the astronomical community's calendar," said Helen Sim of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

The meeting will include discussion of attempts to map the cosmos and other deep space topics like black holes and neutron stars -- the collapsed remnants of burnt out stars.

Closer to earth, experts will look at recent progress in planetary exploration, the hunt for extra-terrestrial life and European plans to build a mega-telescope in Chile.

Singled out for special attention is the future of Antarctica as a prime base for heaven-watching.

The cold, dry air above the continent and its unique magnetic characteristics provide ideal conditions for astronomical observation.

Speakers will notably report on an immense project called ICECUBE to expand a neutrino telescope at the South Pole to encompass a cubic kilometer of collecting area.

The conference runs from Sunday to July 26.