Contact Us  |  Search:   
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Policy and Global Affairs
Home About BISO Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Quick Links

Contact BISO
Board on International Scientific Organizations
Policy and Global Affairs
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth Street
Washington, DC 20001 USA
Tel: +1 202-334-2807
Fax: +1 202-334-2231

International Visitors Office
For visa-related issues, visit International Visitors Office

Contact the IVO

Tel:+1 202-334-2807
Fax:+1 202-334-2231

BISO Events Calendar

Events of US National
Committees and
international unions
associated with BISO



U.S. National Committee for IAU

The National Academy of Sciences is the U.S. adhering body of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and it maintains its relationship with the union through the U.S. National Committee (USNC)/IAU. The IAU’s mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation.


IAU Press Release -- Cosmic Light Programme
As part of the worldwide celebrations of the International Year of Light 2015, the IAU is launching a series of Cosmic Light cornerstone projects to help foster light pollution awareness and education. The projects include a free iPhone app that allows users to monitor the quality of the night sky, a kit of activities and resources for teachers around the world, and a Galileoscope kit currently available for pre-order. To read the complete press release on, click here.  

Join Us in Hawaii in 2015!
The United States will be hosting the XXIX IAU General Assembly, and we invite you to join us in Honolulu, Hawaii from August 3-14, 2015. Information about the meeting and registration links can be found at The website contains information about the scientific program, provides travel advice, and lists tour opportunities. Tours of telescope facilities in Hawaii will be offered before, before, during and after the GA but will not conflict with the scientific sessions.

The IAU GA will replace American Astronomical Society’s regular summer meeting in 2015, and will be an exciting opportunity to further collaboration and networking while enhancing scientific understanding through shared discourse. See you there!

Note: If you missed the January 2015 AAS international travel grants deadline to attend the IAU General Assembly, more travel grants will be available for the spring and summer of 2016. The deadline to apply for these grants is January 8, 2016, as per the AAS website.

Open Call for 2015 IAU - OAD Proposals
The IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) has issued its 4th annual call for proposals for astronomy-for-development projects. The IAU has earmarked €110 000 for OAD projects to be selected in 2015 and implemented in 2016. This is an open call for project proposals, with individual project grants ranging from about €500 to about €15,000. 
The three focus areas of the call are:
1. Astronomy for Universities and Research
2. Astronomy for Children and Schools
3. Astronomy for the Public
This year a new format for the call is being used which will streamline the applications process and allow for greater interaction with the OAD through an optional "Expression of Interest" channel. The OAD looks forward to engaging with potential proposers and helping develop and realize ideas relating to using astronomy to stimulate global sustainable development. 
For more information, visit the OAD website at or the proposal call page at The deadline for expressions of interest is July 15, 2015, while the deadline for full proposals is September 15, 2015.

IAU Individual Membership 
Applications for individual membership in the IAU are accepted once every three years. The most recent application period for U.S. applicants closed in December 2014. U.S. applications were reviewed by the USNC/IAU in January 2015. Final decisions on membership will be made at IAU’s XXIX General Assembly in August 2015. Applicants will be notified of their new status after the General Assembly.

The next application period for U.S. applicants will open in Fall 2017. More information on individual membership in the IAU, can be found on the IAU Membership webpage

IAU Call for Commission Reform Proposals
One of the most important current efforts of the IAU is its restructuring of its commissions. In order to better reflect subdivisions in modern astronomy, a resolution to restructure the IAU Divisions was passed at the IAU General Assembly in Beijing in 2012. The resolution requested, "the new Divisions, guided by the Executive Committee, to work together to produce a revised structure for Commissions…in accordance with the Statutes and By-Laws of the Union”. Accordingly, the following plan and timeline was developed.
  • The IAU issued a Call for Proposals for Commissions in June 2014.
  • Proposal submission was in two phases. Letters of Intent were due by 15 October 2014. Full Proposals were due by 31 January 2015. (Until December 31, IAU members had the opportunity to express their preference for proposed Commissions by electronic poll.)
  • The new Commissions were ranked and reviewed by the Divisions and the IAU Vice-Presidents. A final set of recommendations was submitted to the IAU Executive Committee by 31 March 2015.
  • The IAU Executive Committee made the final decision on the new Commissions at its 15–17 April 2015 meeting. The results are listed on the IAU website.
  • IAU members will be asked to sign up for the new set of Commissions. Each member will be allowed to join a maximum of three Commissions. Elections for the at-large Organizing Committee members for Commissions will be held by 8 July 2015.
  • Finally, all current Commissions will be terminated at the end of the present triennium, and the new Commissions, with their Organizing Committees in place, will be established effective the last day of the 2015 Honolulu General Assembly.
More details can be found on the IAU website, and feedback and suggestions to the IAU are encouraged.

Name ExoWorlds: An IAU Worldwide Contest
The IAU is the only body that officially names stars. The IAU generally names stars using a numbering system that defines a star’s position in the sky. The IAU has two excellent pages on its website that talk about the process of naming astronomical objects and buying star names.

The IAU now is organizing a worldwide contest, aimed at giving popular names to selected exoplanets, along with their host stars. The proposed names will be submitted by astronomy clubs and non-profit organizations interested in astronomy and votes will be cast by the public. A list of 305 well-characterized exoplanets has been selected for naming. This list is now published at: The Exoplanet names will be announced at a special public ceremony, during the IAU XXIX General Assembly in August, 2015.

Celebrating the International Year of Light
IYL logo with UNESCOThe IAU and the U.S. National Committee for the IAU are celebrating the International Year of Light (IYL) in 2015. IYL has been endorsed by the United Nations and UNESCO, as was the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in 2009.

IAU and the worldwide astronomical community are participating in IYL through the Cosmic Light cornerstone project. The Cosmic Light project has 3 component parts:
  • Cosmic Light Awareness: A Cosmic Light Educational Kit will be made available with simple tools 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 IYA in 2009, Galileoscopes have returned. These are optically excellent but inexpensive telescopes, and the goal is to manufacture and distribute at least 100,000 Galileoscopes to teachers and students throughout the world.
  • Light – Beyond the Bulb: This project seeks to bring the science of light to lay audiences. An online repository of high-quality, easy-to-reproduce images and caption will allow individuals worldwide to build exhibits and host outreach events. This project builds on the success of the “From Earth to the Universe” project during IYA in 2009.
Further information about each of these projects can be found on the IAU webpage at

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.

IAU Strategic Plan: “Teaching Astronomy for Development”
The IAU operates under a strategic plan, adopted in 2009, which calls for expanding astronomy development programs over the next decade. The plan builds on the past success of IAU education, teaching and outreach programs as well as the International Year of Astronomy.
Major points of the 2010-2020 Strategic Plan
The complete Strategic Plan, with 2012 update on implementation

Membership of the USNC
Meeting Calendar
Activities and Events
American Astronomical Society
NRC Board on Physics and Astronomy
Astronomical Society of the Pacific
IAU International Webpage
Contact the USNC/IAU

Kathie Bailey, Director, BISO
Pam Gamble, Administrative Assistant

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.

To comment on this webpage or report an error, please send feedback to the BISO Site Manager.