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The IAU, from Commissions to Divisions… to Commissions

  • Thierry Montmerle (a1) (a2)


This paper tells the story behind the succession of reforms that, for the last twenty years, progressively brought the IAU in line with the fast developments of astronomy and the public awareness of the sky worldwide. One major difficulty was how to organize the scientific activities of an exponentially growing population of astronomers, from 200 at its creation in 1919, in the aftermath of WW I, to over 13 500 a century later. The first attempts at “restructuring the IAU”, as the expression went, can be dated back to the 1988–1991 triennium. As shown by the Minutes of the successive meetings of the Executive Committee, the attempted strategy was to encourage and even propose Commission mergers, but this policy met with strong opposition, even though a need for change was felt increasingly necessary. The new approach proposed by L. Woltjer, then incoming IAU President, during the 1994 General Assembly at The Hague, was to retain the existing Commissions (along with their Working Groups) but grouping them, more or less topically, into a dozen Divisions. Putting an end to the Commission merger deadlock, this new structure was adopted very quickly, and confirmed at the following GA in Kyoto (1997). But even after this restructuring, there was little evolution of the Commissions, and in some areas the scientific classification and breakdown of the IAU activities reflected by Divisions became questionable. As a result, a new reform was undertaken in 2009, based on a more global approach, but keeping the Division/Commission/Working Group three-tier structure as the backbone of the reforming efforts. Thanks to a close collaboration between the Executive Committee and the Division Presidents, the Divisions were first redefined and approved at the Beijing GA in 2012, followed by a historic, full-fledged “Commission reset”, itself approved at the Honolulu GA in 2015. This marked the end of a structure created almost a century before, at the foundation of the IAU: the Standing Committees, precursors to the Commissions. But in response to a Call for Proposals issued by the Executive Committee, the “reset” gave birth to a whole new Commission structure, conceived by the community itself.


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Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union
  • ISSN: 1743-9213
  • EISSN: 1743-9221
  • URL: /core/journals/proceedings-of-the-international-astronomical-union
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