Preparing for the GA

The Chamaeleon I star-forming Complex. Photo © European Southern Observatory
The year 2003 sees the biggest gathering of professional astronomers in the world, the International Astronomical Union General Assembly, or GA for short. A triennial meeting, in 2003 it will be in the Sydney Convention Centre, and 2,000 astronomers are expected to converge there from all sectors of the globe. Putting together such a meeting takes not a little effort, and the Australian astronomical community has been working towards this event for 5 years now. The UNSW School of Physics is playing a prominent part in this.

Central to all GA’s are six Symposia addressing some of the most active fields of research in astronomy. One of these will be IAU Symposium number 221, ‘Star formation at high angular resolution’, a field of particular specialty and interest to UNSW’s Star Formation group as the mm-wave interferometer of the Australia Telescope nears completion. Indeed, with the construction of new interferometers across the radio regime, of larger telescopes in the diffraction-limited infrared bands, and the development of adaptive optics to recover the diffraction limit at shorter wavebands, high angular resolution provides a commonality of focus for the field. Michael Burton is chairing the Scientific Organising Committee for this meeting and the Star Formation group makes up most of the Local Organising Committee.

Antarctic astronomy is a major focus of activity with the School, as well as internationally with the development of new facilities at the South Pole and Dome C on the Antarctic Plateau. At the GA it will be the subject of Special Session 2, which is being organised by UNSW’s Antarctic Astronomy group.

We are also endeavouring to run a major public outreach event as a lead up to the GA, using the opportunity of many of the world’s leading astronomers coming to Australia to promote and publicise the importance of science, and science education, to society. “Astronomy on the Go” is the result. This consists of events both before and during the GA. Three outreach tours of regional NSW will be run, stopping at 4-5 centres each and running activities in schools and the local community. These tours will be run by our own physics students, and indeed a major goal of “Astronomy on the Go” is to train the current generation of students with the skills to undertake public outreach. “Astronomy on the Go” will also feature two Science in the Pub events, and finish with a School’s Day in Darling Harbour, to which we hope to attract over 1,000 students for talks on the big questions of life, the universe and everything.

Michael Burton



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