Astronomers are used to surprises, so they ought to be more than comfortable at the 20th General As- sembly of the International Astronomical Union in Baltimore next month: First, there is no pre-published program listing titles of talks to be given. Second, the main topic of conversation won’t be what anyone expected when the conference was planned.

The intent had been to analyze —and celebrate—the latest findings from the Hubble Space Telescope. By midsummer 1988, the Hubble would surely have been launched aboard a U.S. shuttle, conference organizers reasoned, so what better time to hold the first General Assembly in the United States for 27 years? In fact, the U.S. National Committee for the IAU endorsed Johns Hopkins to host the event, assuming that right on campus at the Space Telescope Science Institute, data from the Hubble would be divulging incredible celestial secrets from the dimmest reaches of the universe....

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