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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 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 will be reviewed by the USNC/IAU in January 2015. Final decisions on membership will be made at IAU’s XXIX General Assembly in August 2015. 

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

NameExoWorlds: An IAU Worldwide Contest
The USNC/IAU would like to share a new IAU-organized 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.

IAU Call for Commission Reform Proposals
For the last several years, the IAU has been engaged in important restructuring of the Divisions and Commissions. Delegates to the 2012 IAU General Assembly in Beijing voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution presented by the Executive Committee (Resolution B4), to put in place a new divisional structure. To carry out the request of Resolution B4, in 2014, the Executive Committee endorsed a plan from the Division Presidents for “resettling” the Commissions.

As part of that plan, a Call for Proposals for IAU Commissions is now open. The submission of Proposals for Commissions will be in two phases:
  1. Letters of Intent (by October 15, 2014), followed by
  2. Full Proposals (by January 31, 2015) (an online submission form will be provided)
More details can be found on the IAU website, and feedback and suggestions to the IAU are encouraged.

United States to Host IAU GA in 2015                              
Honolulu, Hawaii will be the venue of the IAU’s XXIX General Assembly from August 3-14, 2015. The last IAU GA held in the U.S. was in Baltimore, MD in 1988.
The meeting website is already up at For now, the website contains basic information, but in the coming months, additional information will be added, including program specifics, travel advice, and tour opportunities. For example, 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 AAS’ regular summer meeting in 2015. As Kevin Marvel, executive officer at the American Astronomical Society, stated at the IAU General Assembly in Beijing, “The next General Assembly will be an interesting and exciting conference, enabling collaboration and networking while enhancing our scientific understanding of the universe through shared discourse.” We hope to see you there!

AAS International Travel Grants Deadline for the IAU GA: January 9, 2015
Prospective IAU General Assembly attendees are encouraged to look into AAS International Travel Grants. The AAS administers this National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, which provides funding for airline travel to international science meetings. This funding is available only to individuals at U.S. institutions, with funds targeted for (in priority order) early-career scientists, scientists from smaller institutions or from underserved populations, and scientists whose participation at the meeting is important for U.S. visibility. For more details on how to apply before January 9, 2015, please consult the AAS International Travel Grants website.

IAU Addresses Scientific Issues
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.

Naming a Star
The IAU is the only body that officially names stars, and it has responsibility for this because it represents astronomers worldwide. The IAU names stars using a numbering system (not names) that defines a star’s position in the sky. The IAU has two very good pages on its website that talk about the process of naming astronomical objects and buying star names.

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


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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.

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