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IAU International Astronomical Union is a grouping of the different national astronomical societies from around the world.

What is the IAU International Astronomical Union

The IAU is the international decision-making body in the field of standards in astronomy and in the definitions of names of planets and other celestial objects.

It was created on July 28, 1919, from the union of different organizations such as:

  • the Bureau International de l’Heure,
  • the Carte du Ciel and
  • the Solar Union.

Objectives of the IAU International Astronomical Union

The mission of the International Astronomical Union is to promote and coordinate international cooperation in astronomy.

In addition to safeguarding the science of astronomy in all its aspects, its objective is to elaborate the nomenclature rules.

IAU International Astronomical Union members

The IAU has 89 national partners, that is, 89 countries affiliated to the IAU.

In addition, it has more than 13,000 individual members, mainly professional astronomers from around the world, with doctoral degrees and active in professional research and astronomy education.

The current president of the IAU is Ewine F. van Dishoeck (2018-2021).

The Portuguese astronomer Teresa Lago serves as Secretary General of the institution for the same three-year period.

IAU General Assemblies

The IAU General Assembly meets every three years.

Since 1919, the meetings between 1939 and 1947 were only interrupted, due to the Second World War.

IAU 2006. IAU International Astronomical Union
In 2006, the IAU General Assembly elected Catherine Cesarsky President, for a period of three years. Credit: IAU

The XXX General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union took place in Vienna in August 2018.

For two weeks, 3,000 scientists from 89 countries were able to discuss frontier research in the exploration of the cosmos.

The next appointment will be in Busan (Republic of Korea), in September 2021.

Main activities

The IAU coordinates 37 commissions and 85 working groups on different astronomical topics grouped into 12 main divisions:

  • Fundamental astronomy
  • Sun and heliosphere
  • Planetary sciences
  • Stars.
  • Variable stars
  • Interstellar material
  • The Milky Way
  • Galaxies and Universe
  • Spectroscopy
  • Radio astronomy
  • High energy physics and space techniques
  • Activities common to all divisions

The coordination of activities resides in the Secretariat of the IAU, in the Institute of Astrophysics of Paris, France.

In addition, the IAU organizes:

  • Colloquia
  • Symposia
  • Regional meetings
  • International Schools for Young Astronomers
  • Commissions (40)
  • Working Groups (74)

Other functions of the IAU

The IAU also coordinates the definition of the fundamental astronomical and physical constants; in addition, the astronomical nomenclatures.

It also promotes astronomy education activities.

The IAU participates in informal discussions on the possibilities of future large-scale international installations.

COSPAR 2021. IAU International Astronomical Union
COSPAR Assembly logo in February 2021. Credit: SETI

The IAU works to promote astronomical education and research through its program clusters at the International Schools for Young Astronomers.

It also has joint educational activities with the Committee for Space Activities (COSPAR) and with UNESCO.