The International Astronomical Union

On Monday I will be setting off for Rio de Janeiro for the 2009 International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly (GA). This is a massive multi-conference that takes place every three years and covers almost all aspects of astronomy.

The General Assemblies began in 1922, in Rome, and have moved around the globe ever since. It was at the 2006 GA in Prague that Pluto was re-classified as a dwarf planet. In 1973, due to political problems, two assemblies were held: one regular assembly in Sydney and another ‘extraordinary’ assembly in Poland to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Copernicus.

Part of each GA involves sessions where new ‘resolutions’ are debated and voted upon – such as the planetary definition resolution in 2006. Another example is that in 2003, in Sydney, the IAU made a resolution to ensure that after a reasonable period of time, all astronomical data from major telescopes go into the public domain, and be free of intellectual rights.

The IAU also decides on the standard symbols for various astronomical constants, and on the accepted frequencies for various spectral lines. All of this may sound trivial and bureaucratic, but by keeping the community cohesive and tidy, astronomy runs more smoothly.

This year’s event in Rio de Janeiro will be my first and I’m looking forward to it. I will be blogging the experience, although I’m not taking my laptop with me – also a first! I will instead rely solely (and perhaps foolishly) on my iPhone. This means my posts will be shorter and possibly misspelled. Flickr, and Twitter will be my friend, and Skype on the iPhone will be thoroughly tested! I may have to buy a solar charger…

There will mostly likely be a Tweetup and a mini .Astronomy meeting whilst I am there as well as many many talks! If you are going to be there follow me on Twitter and head for the Tweetup when it happens. I have also created a Flickr group for the IAU ( so if you’re going and are on Flickr then join it and add some snaps.

[Post image from Flickr user Rodrigo_Soldon]


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