Astronomers Flock to Seattle for Big Space Conference
This new infrared view of the star formation region Messier 8, often called the Lagoon Nebula, was captured by the VISTA telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. This view was created from several other images acquired as in a huge survey of the central parts of the Milky Way.
Credit: ESO/VVV Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit [Full Story]

Thousands of astronomers are headed to chilly, cloudy Seattle for their annual winter meeting of all things space and science.

The 217th meeting of the American Astronomical Society runs from Sunday (Jan. 9) through Jan. 13. Approximately 2,500 scientists are expected to assemble for the cosmic five-day conference to discuss more than 1,800 of the latest discoveries of black holes, alien planets, near-Earth asteroids and more. The conference returns to Seattle every fourth winter for the meeting.

About 80 science journalists are also expected to attend the meeting, according to AAS press officer Rick Fienberg. [The Top 7 Space Stories of 2010]

"There are always lots of fascinating discoveries being unveiled at our meetings -- that's why we attract so many reporters and so much media coverage," Fienberg told SPACE.com in an email interview.

The meeting also features several policy sessions, which occur during lunch breaks in town hall-style talks. Some will cover controversial topics such as NASA's budget-busting James Webb Space Telescope and the Astro2010 Decadal Survey, which makes recommendations about the highest-priority astronomy research for the coming decade.

"I wouldn't be surprised if NASA's astrophysics leadership faces some tough questions and angry comments during some of the Town Halls," Fienberg said.

As for the meeting locale, Fienberg acknowledged the irony of holding an astronomy conference in one of the cloudiest cities in America.

"But if we met someplace clear and dark, many attendees would spend all night out observing and then sleep through the next day's presentations," Fienberg said. "I don't think the speakers would appreciate all that snoring!"

Visit SPACE.com for full coverage of the discoveries announced at the 217th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter here @michaeldwall as he reports live from the 217th American Astronomical Society meeting.