International Astronomical Union

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International Astronomical Union (IAU)
Union astronomique internationale (UAI)
IAU logo.svg
Members of International Astronomical Union.svg
National members from 82 countries as of 2020
  Member states
  Member with interim status
  Observer states
  Suspended states
Formation28 July 1919; 101 years ago (1919-07-28)
HeadquartersParis, France
82 national members[1]
13,701 individual members[2]
Ewine van Dishoeck
Maria Teresa Lago

The International Astronomical Union (IAU; French: Union astronomique internationale, UAI) exists to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy through international cooperation, assign official names and designations to celestial bodies, and liaise with organizations that include amateur astronomers. Founded in 1919 and based in Paris, the IAU is a member of the International Science Council (ISC).


The International Astronomical Union is an international association of professional astronomers, at the PhD level and beyond, active in professional research and education in astronomy.[3] Among other activities, it acts as the recognized authority for assigning designations and names to celestial bodies (stars, planets, asteroids, etc.) and any surface features on them.[4]

The IAU is a member of the International Science Council (ISC). Its main objective is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU maintains friendly relations with organizations that include amateur astronomers in their membership. The IAU has its head office on the second floor of the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris in the 14th arrondissement of Paris.[5]

This organisation has many working groups. For example, the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN), which maintains the astronomical naming conventions and planetary nomenclature for planetary bodies, and the Working Group on Star Names (WGSN), which catalogues and standardizes proper names for stars. The IAU is also responsible for the system of astronomical telegrams which are produced and distributed on its behalf by the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. The Minor Planet Center also operates under the IAU, and is a "clearinghouse" for all non-planetary or non-moon bodies in the Solar System.[6]


The IAU was founded on 28 July 1919, at the Constitutive Assembly of the International Research Council (now the International Science Council) held in Brussels, Belgium.[7][8] Two subsidiaries of the IAU were also created at this assembly: the International Time Commission seated at the International Time Bureau in Paris, France, and the International Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams initially seated in Copenhagen, Denmark.[7] The 7 initial member states were Belgium, Canada, France, Great Britain, Greece, Japan, and the United States, soon to be followed by Italy and Mexico.[7] The first executive committee consisted of Benjamin Baillaud (President, France), Alfred Fowler (General Secretary, UK), and four vice presidents: William Campbell (USA), Frank Dyson (UK), Georges Lecointe (Belgium), and Annibale Riccò (Italy).[7] Thirty-two Commissions (referred to initially as Standing Committees) were appointed at the Brussels meeting and focused on topics ranging from relativity to minor planets. The reports of these 32 Commissions formed the main substance of the first General Assembly, which took place in Rome, Italy, 2–10 May 1922. By the end of the first General Assembly, ten additional nations (Australia, Brazil, Czecho-Slovakia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, South Africa, and Spain) had joined the Union, bringing the total membership to 19 countries. Although the Union was officially formed eight months after the end of World War I, international collaboration in astronomy had been strong in the pre-war era (e.g., the Astronomische Gesellschaft Katalog projects since 1868, the Astrographic Catalogue since 1887, and the International Union for Solar research since 1904).[7]

The first 50 years of the Union's history are well documented.[7][8] Subsequent history is recorded in the form of reminiscences of past IAU Presidents and General Secretaries. Twelve of the fourteen past General Secretaries in the period 1964-2006 contributed their recollections of the Union's history in IAU Information Bulletin No. 100.[9] Six past IAU Presidents in the period 1976–2003 also contributed their recollections in IAU Information Bulletin No. 104.[10]


The IAU includes member organizations from 82 countries (designated as national members)

As of 1 August 2019, the IAU includes a total of 13,701 individual members, who are professional astronomers from 102 countries worldwide. 81.7% of all individual members are male, while 18.3% are female, among them the union's former president, Mexican astronomer Silvia Torres-Peimbert.[2]

Membership also includes 82 national members, professional astronomical communities representing their country's affiliation with the IAU. National members include the Australian Academy of Science, the Chinese Astronomical Society, the French Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, the National Academies (United States), the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (Argentina), KACST (Saudi Arabia), the Council of German Observatories, the Royal Astronomical Society (United Kingdom), the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Science Council of Japan, among many others.[1]

The sovereign body of the IAU is its General Assembly, which comprises all members. The Assembly determines IAU policy, approves the Statutes and By-Laws of the Union (and amendments proposed thereto) and elects various committees.

The right to vote on matters brought before the Assembly varies according to the type of business under discussion. The Statutes consider such business to be divided into two categories:

  • issues of a "primarily scientific nature" (as determined by the Executive Committee), upon which voting is restricted to individual members, and
  • all other matters (such as Statute revision and procedural questions), upon which voting is restricted to the representatives of national members.

On budget matters (which fall into the second category), votes are weighted according to the relative subscription levels of the national members. A second category vote requires a turnout of at least two-thirds of national members to be valid. An absolute majority is sufficient for approval in any vote, except for Statute revision which requires a two-thirds majority. An equality of votes is resolved by the vote of the President of the Union.

List of national members[edit]


  •  Algeria
  •  Egypt
  •  Ethiopia
  •  Ghana
  •  Madagascar (Observer)
  •  Morocco (Observer)
  •  Mozambique (Observer)
  •  Nigeria
  •  South Africa


  •  Armenia
  •  People's Republic of China
  •  Taiwan
  •  Cyprus
  •  Georgia (Suspended)
  •  India
  •  Indonesia
  •  Iran (Suspended)
  •  Israel
  •  Japan
  •  Jordan
  •  Kazakhstan
  •  Korea, Democratic People's Republic of (Interim)
  •  Korea, Republic of
  •  Lebanon (Interim)
  •  Malaysia
  •  Mongolia (Interim)
  •  Philippines
  •  Saudi Arabia (Suspended)
  •  Syria (Observer)
  •  Tajikistan
  •  Thailand
  •  Turkey
  •  United Arab Emirates
  •  Vietnam (Interim)


  •  Austria
  •  Belgium
  •  Bulgaria
  •  Denmark
  •  Croatia
  •  Czech Republic
  •  Estonia
  •  Finland
  •  France
  •  Germany
  •  Greece
  •  Hungary
  •  Iceland
  •  Ireland
  •  Italy
  •  Latvia
  •  Lithuania
  •  Netherlands
  •  Norway
  •  Poland
  •  Portugal
  •  Romania
  •  Russian Federation
  •  Serbia
  •  Slovakia
  •  Slovenia
  •  Spain
  •  Sweden
  •   Switzerland
  •  Ukraine
  •  United Kingdom
  •   Vatican City State

North America[edit]

  •  Canada
  •  Costa Rica (Interim)
  •  Honduras (Interim)
  •  Mexico
  •  Panama (Interim)
  •  United States


  •  Australia
  •  New Zealand

South America[edit]

  •  Argentina
  •  Bolivia (Suspended)
  •  Brazil
  •  Chile
  •  Colombia
  •  Peru (Suspended)
  •  Uruguay (Observer)
  •  Venezuela

Terminated national members[edit]

  •  Azerbaijan
  •  Cuba
  •  North Macedonia
  •  Uzbekistan

General Assemblies[edit]

Since 1922, the IAU General Assembly meets every three years, except for the period between 1938 and 1948, due to World War II. After a Polish request in 1967, and by a controversial decision[11] of the then President of the IAU, an Extraordinary IAU General Assembly was held in September 1973 in Warsaw, Poland,[12] to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus, soon after the regular 1973 GA had been held in Sydney, Australia.

Ist IAU General Assembly (1st)1922Rome, Italy
IInd IAU General Assembly (2nd)1925Cambridge, England, United Kingdom
IIIrd IAU General Assembly (3rd)1928Leiden, Netherlands
IVth IAU General Assembly (4th)1932Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Vth IAU General Assembly (5th)1935Paris, France
VIth IAU General Assembly (6th)1938Stockholm, Sweden
VIIth IAU General Assembly (7th)1948Zürich, Switzerland
VIIIth IAU General Assembly (8th)1952Rome, Italy
IXth IAU General Assembly (9th)1955Dublin, Ireland
Xth IAU General Assembly (10th)1958Moscow, Soviet Union
XIth IAU General Assembly (11th)1961Berkeley, California, United States
XIIth IAU General Assembly (12th)1964Hamburg, West Germany
XIIIth IAU General Assembly (13th)1967Prague, Czechoslovakia
XIVth IAU General Assembly (14th)1970Brighton, England, United Kingdom
XVth IAU General Assembly (15th)1973Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
XVIth IAU General Assembly (16th)1976Grenoble, France
XVIIth IAU General Assembly (17th)1979Montreal, Quebec, Canada
XVIIIth IAU General Assembly (18th)1982Patras, Greece
XIXth IAU General Assembly (19th)1985New Delhi, India
XXth IAU General Assembly (20th)1988Baltimore, Maryland, United States
XXIst IAU General Assembly (21st)1991Buenos Aires, Argentina
XXIInd IAU General Assembly (22nd)1994The Hague, Netherlands
XXIIIrd IAU General Assembly (23rd)1997Kyoto, Kansai, Japan
XXIVth IAU General Assembly (24th)2000Manchester, England, United Kingdom
XXVth IAU General Assembly (25th)2003Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
XXVIth IAU General Assembly (26th)2006Prague, Czech Republic
XXVIIth IAU General Assembly (27th)2009Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
XXVIIIth IAU General Assembly (28th)2012Beijing, China
XXIXth IAU General Assembly (29th)2015Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
XXXth IAU General Assembly (30th)2018Vienna, Austria
XXXIst IAU General Assembly (31st)2022[13]Busan, South Korea

List of the presidents of the IAU[edit]


  • (1919–1922) Benjamin Baillaud
  • (1922–1925) William Wallace Campbell
  • (1925–1928) Willem de Sitter
  • (1928–1932) Frank Watson Dyson
  • (1932–1935) Frank Schlesinger
  • (1935–1938) Ernest Esclangon
  • (1938–1944) Arthur Eddington
  • (1944–1948) Harold Spencer Jones
  • (1948–1952) Bertil Lindblad
  • (1952–1955) Otto Struve
  • (1955–1958) André-Louis Danjon
  • (1958–1961) Jan Oort
  • (1961–1964) Victor Ambartsumian
  • (1964–1967) Pol Swings
  • (1967–1970) Otto Heckmann
  • (1970–1973) Bengt Strömgren
  • (1973–1976) Leo Goldberg
  • (1976–1979) Adriaan Blaauw
  • (1979–1982) Vainu Bappu
  • (1982–1985) Robert Hanbury Brown
  • (1985–1988) Jorge Sahade
  • (1988–1991) Yoshihide Kozai
  • (1991–1994) Alexandr Boyarchuk
  • (1994–1997) Lodewijk Woltjer
  • (1997–2000) Robert Kraft
  • (2000–2003) Franco Pacini
  • (2003–2006) Ronald Ekers
  • (2006–2009) Catherine Cesarsky
  • (2009–2012) Robert Williams
  • (2012–2015) Norio Kaifu
  • (2015–2018) Silvia Torres-Peimbert
  • (2018–present) Ewine van Dishoeck

Commission 46: Education in astronomy[edit]

Commission 46 is a Committee of the Executive Committee of the IAU, playing a special role in the discussion of astronomy development with governments and scientific academies. The IAU is affiliated with the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), a non-governmental organization representing a global membership that includes both national scientific bodies and international scientific unions. They often encourage countries to become members of the IAU. The Commission further seeks to development, information or improvement of astronomical education. Part of Commission 46, is Teaching Astronomy for Development (TAD) program in countries where there is currently very little astronomical education. Another program is named the Galileo Teacher Training Program (GTTP), is a project of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, among which Hands-On Universe that will concentrate more resources on education activities for children and schools designed to advance sustainable global development. GTTP is also concerned with the effective use and transfer of astronomy education tools and resources into classroom science curricula. A strategic plan for the period 2010-2020 has been published.[16]


Cover picture of CAP Journal issue 19, March 2016.[17]

In 2004 the IAU contracted with the Cambridge University Press to publish the Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union.[18]

In 2007, the Communicating Astronomy with the Public Journal Working Group prepared a study assessing the feasibility of the Communicating Astronomy with the Public Journal (CAP Journal).[citation needed]

See also[edit]

  • Astronomical acronyms
  • Astronomical naming conventions
  • List of proper names of stars
  • Planetary nomenclature


  1. ^ a b National Members
  2. ^ a b Geographical and Gender Distribution of Individual Members
  3. ^ "About the IAU". International Astronomical Union. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  4. ^ Overbye, Dennis (4 August 2014). "You Won't Meet the Beatles in Space - Plan to Liven Official Naming of Stars and Planets Hits Clunky Notes". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  5. ^ "IAU Secretariat." International Astronomical Union. Retrieved on 26 May 2011. "Address: IAU - UAI Secretariat 98-bis Blvd Arago F–75014 PARIS FRANCE" and "The IAU Secretariat is located in the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, 2nd floor, offices n°270, 271 and 283."
  6. ^ "Centres – Minor Planet Center". International Astronomical Union. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Blaauw, Adriaan (1994). History of the IAU : the birth and first half-century of the International Astronomical Union. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. ISBN 0-7923-2979-1.
  8. ^ a b Adams, Walter S. (February 1949). "The History of the International Astronomical Union". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 61 (358): 5. Bibcode:1949PASP...61....5A. doi:10.1086/126108.
  9. ^ IAU Information Bulletin No. 100, July 2007
  10. ^ IAU Information Bulletin No. 104, June 2009
  11. ^ Gingerich, Owen (1999). "The Copernican Quinquecentennial and Its Predecessors: Historical Insights and National Agendas". Osiris. 14: 50–51. doi:10.1086/649299. JSTOR 301960.
  12. ^ Extraordinary General Assembly
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Past Executive Committee". International Astronomical Union. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  15. ^ Колчинский И. Г., Корсунь А. А., Родригес М. Г. (1977). Астрономы. Биографический справочник (in Russian). Киев: Наукова Думка.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Astronomy for the Developing World, Building from the IYA 2009, Strategic Plan 2010-20
  17. ^ "CAPjournal Rosetta Special Out Now". Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  18. ^ "Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union". Cambridge Journals Online. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  • Statutes of the IAU, VII General Assembly (1948), pp. 13–15

External links[edit]

  • Official website
  • XXVIth General Assembly 2006
  • XXVIIth General Assembly 2009
  • XXVIIIth General Assembly 2012
  • XXIXth General Assembly 2015
  • XXXth General Assembly 2018