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International Year of Light, 2015
In recognizing 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015), the United Nations recognized the importance of raising global awareness about how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health.  The final report on IYL 2015 ( was released in October 2016.  It highlights the many successes of the year, including 13,168 events in 147 countries.  A companion UNESCO report, Inspired by Light:  Reflections from the International Year of Light 2015, was published by SPIE and can be found at

U.S. Hosts a Successful 2015 XXIX IAU General Assembly
The United States hosted the XXIX IAU General Assembly in Honolulu, Hawaii from August 3-14, 2015. The USNC/IAU would like to thank the American Astronomical Society for its outstanding work on the logistical arrangements associated with this meeting.
The IAU homepage ( summarized well the highlights of the General Assembly:
“The IAU XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu, Hawai'i, USA, ends today, Friday, 14 August 2015, after two busy weeks packed with symposia, meetings and events. The General Assembly was an enormous success, with more than 3000 attendees from 74 countries across the world, including almost 100 members of the press. These numbers made it one of the largest IAU General Assemblies ever organised. The participants enjoyed a vast collection of scientific presentations in six symposia and 22 focus meetings on research, development, advancement and collaboration within astronomy.
One new country joined the organisation on this occasion: Colombia. The General Assembly also approved around 1200 new individual IAU members at its closing ceremony, bringing the total to almost 12 500 members.
Four resolutions were approved by vote at the General Assembly. These included the confirmation and extension of the IAU strategic plan for astronomy in the developing world and the protection of radio astronomy observations in the 76–81 GHz frequency band.
It was decided that the XXXI IAU General Assembly in 2021 will be held in Busan, the Republic of Korea.
The newly elected IAU officers are:
  • Silvia Torres-Peimbert, Mexico, President
  • Piero Benvenuti, Italy, General Secretary
  • Ewine van Dishoeck, the Netherlands, President-elect
  • Maria Teresa Lago, Portugal, General Secretary-elect
Seven press briefings took place on a wide range of topics, from the slow death of the Universe to the first science conducted using night-time photographs taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, and received worldwide media coverage (see iau1508iau1509iau1510 and iau1511).
Agreements were signed for five new coordinating offices in Armenia, Colombia, Jordan, Nigeria and Portugal. This agreement seeks to realise the social benefits of astronomy as part of the IAU's decadal strategic plan.
During the assembly, the NameExoWorlds contest also opened its public vote to decide the names of 15 stars and 32 exoplanets.
Several public outreach events took place over the course of the General Assembly, including a stargazing party, school visits to the exhibition hall and astronomers visiting more than a dozen schools, reaching about 2000 students.

On Monday, August 3, National Science Foundation Director France Cordova welcomed attendees to the IAU General Assembly:
France Cordova, NSF Director, at the IAU Opening Ceremony

Kai'aleleiaka: The Official Newspaper of the IAU XXIX General Assembly 
Newspaper issues were released every day from August 3 to August 14 and include reviews of symposia, focus groups, and workshops, upcoming event announcements, messages from sponsors, and much more. Download the PDFs here.

The Young Astronomers Lunch at the XXIX IAU GA
The Young Astronomers Luncheon (YAL) was first introduced at the 2006 IAU General Assembly (GA), with the aim of stimulating networking opportunities between senior astronomers and those young astronomers (YAs) at the start of their careers. The popular and consistently over-subscribed event has been offered at each General Assembly since then. This year's Young Astronomers Lunch event was sponsored by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters (NASL), and the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), and was held on August 12.

Around 180 young astronomers had the opportunity to meet with astronomers from prestigious institutions from around the world, members of the IAU Executive Committee, and Council members of the American Astronomical Society. The YAL featured roundtable discussions involving one to two senior astronomers and eight to nine young astronomers. Discussions focused on topics of interest to young astronomers such as career paths, research funding, successful job strategies, fellowships opportunities, the future of astronomy, and job prospects. This venue permitted informal discussions with networking. The invited senior astronomers have a wide range of expertise and areas of interest. This was a great opportunity for young astronomers to meet with experts and to network with other young astronomers with similar interests.

Women in Astronomy

The USNC/IAU and the National Academy of Sciences with the IAU again cosponsored the Women in Astronomy lunch at the IAU General Assembly. Held on August 4, the sold-out event was attended by about 200 people (about 90% women). Presentations were made by Meg Urry (Yale University, current President of AAS); Bob Williams (Space Telescope Science Institute, past President, IAU); and Silvia Torres-Peimbert (incoming President, IAU).

The IAU GA daily newspaper reported, "With very different styles, [Williams and Torres-Peimbert] both addressed the lack of women in our field and the complexity of finding solutions. As Williams pointed out, some suggested solutions, like quotas, may increase participation of women, while increasing the cultural issues that drive women out of astronomy. Torres-Peimbert noted the percentage of women in the IAU, which represents the senior members of our field, has not substantially changed for six years, and we need to purposely work to change this." (See
The lunch also included time for lively table discussions. Problems and solutions were discussed by participants at each table.

In addition, the Women in Astronomy Working Group has been reapproved by the new IAU Executive Committee (EC). The Working Group reports directly to the IAU EC. See for more information.

2012 IAU General Assembly
The IAU XXVII General Assembly (GA) was held in Beijing, China from 20-31 August 2012.  The GA was the largest ever organized, attended by almost 3,000 scientists from about 80 countries, including the United States. A National Science Foundation grant to the American Astronomical Society provided travel funding for approximately 100 U.S. astronomers. 
The opening address was given by Xi Jinping, Vice President of the People’s Republic of China. The vice president’s remarks addressed not only astronomy, but the importance of science and technology both to individual countries and to the entire world. His thoughtful remarks, widely distributed in China both in print and on television, may be read in full here.

Officers for the 2012-2015 triennium were elected and include president Norio Kaifu (Japan), general secretary Thierry Montmerle (France), assistant general secretary Piero Benvenuti (Italy) and president-elect Silvia Torres-Peimbert (Mexico). Robert Williams (USA) will serve as past president.
Scientific Decisions from the 2012 IAU General Assembly 
The IAU, through its divisions and national members, addresses topics of importance to the worldwide astronomical community. At the 2012 IAU General Assembly in Beijing, three scientific resolutions were approved. The U.S. delegation supported all of these. Brief summaries of the resolutions follow and more detailed discussions can be found on the IAU website (online PDF).
  • Guidelines for the designations and specifications of optical and infrared astronomical photometric passbands. This resolution was proposed by IAU Commission 25 to alleviate the considerable confusion that has existed and continues to exist in the defining and naming of photometric passbands of all spectral widths in the visible and infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The resolution aims to minimizes such confusion, and has been a long-time goal of members of Commission 25. The resolution was approved unanimously by the GA.
  • The re-definition of the astronomical unit (au) of length was proposed and supported by the IAU Division I Working Group on Numerical Standards. The resolution was introduced by Dennis McCarthy, U. S. Naval Observatory (retired), President of IAU Division I. The resolution was unanimously approved, so now the astronomical unit (au) is defined as a fixed number as: au=149 597 870 700 m exactly. This definition can be used with all-time scales such as Barycentric Coordinate Time, Barycentric Dynamical Time, Geocentric Coordinate Time, Terrestrial Time, etc. This eliminates possible conflicts with SI units, dependence on theories of motion, and requirements for additional conventions within the relativistic framework.
Establishment of an International Near Earth Object (NEO) early warning system. This resolution was proposed by IAU Division III Working Group on Near Earth Objects. It addressed the threat posed by NEOs. As stated in the resolution, there is now ample evidence that the probability of catastrophic impacts of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) on the Earth, potentially highly destructive to life, and for humankind in particular, is not negligible and that appropriate actions are needed to avoid such catastrophes that would arise for the largest NEOs. Thanks to the efforts of the astronomical community and of several space agencies, the cataloguing of the potentially hazardous NEOs, the monitoring of their impact possibilities and the analysis of technologically feasible mitigations is reaching a satisfactory level. Even the impact of small- to moderate-sized objects may represent a great threat to our civilizations and to the international community. The resolution notes that NEOs are a threat to all nations on Earth, and therefore all nations should contribute to avert this threat. The resolution recommends that the IAU National Members work with the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) and the International Council for Science (ICSU) to coordinate and collaborate on the establishment of an International NEO early warning system, relying on the scientific and technical advice of the relevant astronomical community, whose main purpose is the reliable identification of potential NEO collisions with the Earth, and the communication of the relevant parameters to suitable decision makers of the nation(s) involved.

USNC Active at 2012 IAU General Assembly

Sponsored by the USNC/IAU through a grant from the National Science Foundation and, for the first time, co-sponsored by the Norwegian National Academy of Sciences and Letters, the lunch attracted nearly 280 individuals. Special thanks go to Edward Guinan (Villanova University) and Kevin Grovender (IAU Office of Astronomy for Development) for their organization of the event. The Young Astronomers lunch featured roundtable discussions involving one to two senior astronomers and eight to nine young astronomers. Discussions focus on pre-selected topics, such as career paths, research funding, successful job strategies, fellowships opportunities, the future of astronomy, and job prospects in the U.S. A questionnaire was distributed and completed by the participants at the end of the event. Almost all attendees recommended that a similar event be offered at future General Assemblies. Most of the young astronomers had received their PhD, but a few were either undergraduates, graduate students without a PhD, or in post-doc positions. Almost all were between 20 and 35 years old.
Women’s Luncheon
Sponsored by the USNC/IAU through a grant from the National Science Foundation, the fourth Women in Astronomy Luncheon was again a success.  Organized by the IAU’s Women Astronomers Working Group (WAWG), and in particular Sarah Maddison, Francesca Primas, and Yanchun Liang, the August 27 luncheon attracted a crowd of about 250 people, mostly women.  The geographical distribution ranged from large, developed countries to developing countries. 
Two opening talks were given. The first, by Xiangqun Cui, President of the Chinese Astronomical Society and former Director of the Nanjing Institute of Astronomical Optics and Technology, highlighted the careers of prominent women astronomers in China. The second, by Bryan Gaensler, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) in Australia, discussed specific steps that can be taken by employers to make work environments more supportive of women astronomers.
Each table of 8-10 people of different ages and from different countries then discussed specific issues pertaining to the careers of women astronomers. Many interesting and lively discussions ensued, and summaries of each were prepared for further evaluation.
The Women in Astronomy lunch was followed by a meet-a-mentor session later that day. Hosted by the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC), the focus of this smaller event was to discuss specific career issues and questions. Roughly 100 women attended this pre-registered event. The small group settings permitted quieter, more focused conversation between mentors and mentees. 
United States Reception 
The USNC/IAU sponsored a U.S. Reception on August 22, during the 2012 General Assembly. Held at and cosponsored by the Kavli Institute at Peking University, the event was attended by about 120 people. The reception provides a wonderful opportunity for members of the USNC/IAU to meet and talk with current and incoming officers of the IAU, leaders of various astronomical societies, government officials, the local organizing committee, and other important astronomers.

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International Year of Astronomy
The year 2009 marked the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first use of a telescope to observe the universe.  At the request of the IAU and its members, UNESCO passed a resolution proclaiming 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy, which recognizes the importance of Galileo’s achievements. The International Year of Astronomy presented the opportunity to increase awareness of the field and attract young people to careers in science and technology.

In celebration of the Year, the USNC/IAU worked with the National Research Council Board on Physics and Astronomy and the Space Studies Board to host the symposium Beyond the Decade: The Future of International Astronomy on October 9, 2009.  The symposium explored various dimensions of international astronomy in celebration of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. Three panels respectively discussed contributions of international astronomy focusing on program and activities in six countries and regions; three case studies of multi-national cooperation; and implications for the future from a perspective of four key disciplines.



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number PHY-1318107. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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IAU and the worldwide astronomical community participated in IYL through the Cosmic Light cornerstone project. The Cosmic Light project had 3 component parts: 
  • Cosmic Light Awareness: A Cosmic Light Educational Kit were made available to teach about the nature of light, the impact of light in our understanding of the universe, and the importance of light for our existence.
  • Galileoscope: First made available during the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in 2009, Galileoscopes were again offered. These optically excellent but inexpensive telescopes were made available to teachers and students around the world.
  • Light – Beyond the Bulb: This project sought to bring the science of light to lay audiences. An online repository of high-quality, easy-to-reproduce images and caption allowed individuals worldwide to build exhibits and host outreach events. This project builds on the success of the “From Earth to the Universe” project supported during the International Year of Astronomy in 2009.
Further information about each of these projects can be found on the IAU webpage at