To kick off our new weekly series on the Technical Applications of Astronomy to Society, inspired by a recent publication of the IAU (The International Astronomical Union), our Director Michael Burton has written a brief summary of the history and purpose of the IAU, as well as outlining some of what you can expect to read over the coming weeks.

The International Astronomical Union

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is the world’s leading body for professional astronomers.  Its mission is to promote the science of astronomy, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation.  Its individual Members — structured into Divisions, Commissions, and Working Groups — are professional astronomers from all over the world, at the Ph.D. level and beyond. There are more than 13,500 members, coming from 107 countries.

IAU Logo Credit: IAU

The key activity of the IAU is the organization of scientific meetings. Every year the IAU sponsors 9 international IAU Symposia. Every three years the IAU holds a General Assembly where its members come together. 

Among the other tasks of the IAU are the definition of fundamental astronomical and physical constants; unambiguous astronomical nomenclature and informal discussions on the possibilities for future international large-scale facilities. Furthermore, the IAU serves as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and surface features on them.

The IYA2009/Mani Bhaumik Prize for Excellence in Astronomy Education and Public Outreach celebrates the unsung individuals behind the thousands of IYA2009 events and projects that bring astronomy to the general public. Credit: IAU

The IAU also works to promote research, education and public outreach activities in astronomy for the public. Day-to-day operation are directed from the IAU Offices in Paris.  There is also an Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) in South Africa and an Office for Astronomy Outreach (OAO) in Japan.

The IAU celebrated its centenary in 2019, with a special meeting held in the Palace of the Academies in Brussels, where the inaugural IAU meeting was held in 1919. 

As one part of the centenary celebrations the IAU produced a booklet that aims to highlight some of the technical applications have been supported and driven by astronomy research and development.  From medicine to airport security, astronomy visibly holds an integral role in our daily lives.  Members of IAU’s Division B (“Facilities, Technology, Data Science”) steering committee wrote a series of short articles on specific technological applications of astronomy to society.  We will be featuring these as a series in Astronotes over the coming weeks.  The booklet itself can be dowloaded from the IAU’s website at

To follow our discussion on The Technical Applications of Astronomy to Society, check our blog weekly and subscribe to Astronotes!


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