Birmingham has topped its recent City of Science accolade with a far more out-of-this-world title - Britain's City of Space.

The honour has been granted by the Royal Astronomical Society for the first time in its 185-year history.

It aims to recognise the city's role in hosting a number of space events during 2005, including Britain's biggest gathering of astronomers.

Called the 2005 RAS National Astronomy Meeting, it is currently being held at the University of Birmingham, itself a highl- respected space research centre.

The city's latest accolade comes weeks after Chancellor Gordon Brown named Birmingham a Science City in his Budget announcement.

It was welcomed by Birmingham City Council's cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, Coun John Alden (Con Harborne).

"It is very exciting," he said. "We are the first city in the UK to be designated City of Space. We have a lot of people from all over the world at the conference this week which confirms Birmingham at the forefront of cities that are able to host prestigious events."

The City of Space title was presented to Coun Alden by Professor Kathy Whaler, president of the RAS, at the Barber Institute earlier this week. Other events due to take place in Birmingham this year include the British Festival of Space in June and July at Millennium Point's Thinktank Museum.

It provides a showcase for the UK's space programme, interactive activities, and talks on space exploration.

Millennium Point also plans to open a digital planetarium towards the end of the year.

In addition to this, the city council has plans to hold a space-themed discovery day on August 21.

Anita Heward, the society's communications officer, said: "The UK astronomy community has been very impressed by the way Birmingham has embraced the space theme this year.

"There is a lot going on in the city to get people's enthusiasm for what is out there going which is very important to us.

"Space is key to getting kids interested in science and engineering. It is a subject where the UK is doing fantastic things and it is exciting to let people know that it is not just NASA, it is going on here in Birmingham."

Birmingham University's Physics and Astronomy department has gained a reputation for excellence in astrophysics.

Its Centre for Space and Gravity Research is the only one of its kind in Europe and plays a leading role in the manufacture of space instruments.

Birmingham is also home to a range of other space organisations, including the Planetary Society, the West Midlands Space Flight Society and the Birmingham Astronomical Society.

The City of Space title is backed by the British National Space Centre Partnership, which is responsible for coordinating the UK's civil space activity.

It is envisaged the honour will last a year before being passed on to other parts of the country.