IAU Books

Astronomers as Diplomats — When the IAU Builds Bridges Between Nations
Eds. Thierry Montmerle, Danielle Fauque
3 Aug 2022

This book illuminates a few highly significant events in history in which astronomers have helped keep contacts between astronomers of different states in moments of international political tensions or even crises. The chapters, written by 20 international authors, focus on four periods where astronomers were particularly active in international relations:

1. The WWI period, the epoch of the creation of the IAU, in the context of the simultaneous creation of other scientific unions. The book also singles out the important role of A.S. Eddington and his network “across forbidden borders”.

2. The Cold war period and its consequences, when several countries were divided between opposite blocs. “The China crisis” is told here from different viewpoints by Chinese astronomers, both from the mainland and from Taiwan, in parallel with the evolution of astronomy in South and North Korea. Germany’s twisted path in its membership of the IAU, from its admission in 1951 to its reunification in 1991 is shown as another example.

3. The book then highlights a third period, when radio astronomers, in particular, were very active in “building bridges” between East and West. It also tells the history of how the apparently innocuous issue of the “lunar nomenclature” became extremely sensitive. The part ends on two chapters on Russian robotic missions and lunar surface features as well on the Russian participation in the “International Virtual Observatory” project.

4. The fourth part reports for the first time on the “hidden story” of the relations between the IAU and the United Nations after the “Moon race” when the United Nations decided to challenge the IAU’s authority on “extraterrestrial names”. The final chapter reviews how twenty years later UNESCO and the IAU had become strong partners in the difficult, but highly successful organization of the International Year of Astronomy (2002-2009), and of the “Astronomy and World Heritage” intitiative (2008).

Electronic version
China and the International Astronomical Union — Divorce, Separation and Reconciliation (1958–1982)
Eds. Thierry Montmerle, Yi Zhou
3 Aug 2022

Seen from “inside the IAU,” this book tells the in-depth story of a major crisis in which China “divorced” from the International Astronomical Union in 1960 as a protest against the admission of Taiwan. This happened to all the scientific unions at the same time, and to the Olympic Games, which, unexpectedly, would serve as a laboratory for the “reconciliation” which took place following the re-opening of China to the world 20 years later.

The so-called “China conflict” is the most important crisis in the post-WWII history of the IAU. Yet, many details about this conflict and its links to broader geopolitical events have long remained unsettled, obscure, or altogether absent. In particular, the book describes for the first time the “separation” period, which covered the Cultural Revolution, and in which the IAU made desperate official efforts to reach out to China, while some groups of Western and Chinese astronomers managed to keep contact at times. On the occasion of the IAU Centenary celebrations in 2019, the book revisits this painful succession of events using unpublished documents from the IAU Archives and the International Council of Scientific Unions. The book also contains supplementary typescripts of selected handwritten correspondences and the full translation of key original Chinese documents unknown to readers outside China.

What emerges is a complex and fascinating story of human relations and science diplomacy under the shadow of the Cold War. Readers will learn how the 20-year “China conflict” as lived by astronomers and scientists is important not only for the history of the IAU, but also for the history of contemporary China.

Electronic version
The International Astronomical Union - Uniting the Community for 100 Years
Johannes Andersen, David M. Baneke, Claus Madsen
Springer International Publishing
ISBN 978-3-319-96964-0
9 Oct 2019

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) was founded in 1919, in the wake of the First World War, together with its sister Unions in related natural sciences. It will thus turn 100 years in 2019. Written by a mixed team of insiders and outsiders, this book presents the IAU in the changing context of the historical, scientific and technological development of astronomy during the past 100 years.

While much important scientific progress took place already before 1945, the book naturally focuses on the accelerating evolution during the second half of the century. In the past few decades, the previously narrow IAU focus on organising professional astronomy has broadened to include societally relevant activities such as addressing the hazard of asteroid impacts, the planetary status of Pluto in the Solar System, and the hugely successful International Year of Astronomy. Most recently, it is spearheading a combination of science literacy and public outreach.

The book will be of interest to professional astronomers as well as an astronomically interested general audience. The book features live personal interviews with as many of the key actors as still possible.

Electronic version
History of the IAU. Birth and First Half-Century of the International Astronomical Union
Adriaan Blaauw
ISBN 978-94-011-0978-9
31 Dec 1994

This History has its origin in a suggestion, made in September 1990 by former IAU General Secretary Derek McNally, who felt "that a 75 year history of the Union was needed before the col­lective memory of those who knew the Union before the Second World War vanished. It would then be a preparatory volume to a centennial history in 2019.

Electronic version


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