|Formation||10 March 1820|
|Type||NGO, learned society|
|Legal status||Registered charity|
|Purpose||To promote the sciences of astronomy & geophysics|
|Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (FRAS)|
|Astronomical Society of London|
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) is a learned society and charity that encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science.Its headquarters are in Burlington House, on Piccadilly in London. The society has over 4,000 members ("Fellows"), most of them professional researchers or postgraduate students. Around a quarter of Fellows live outside the UK.
The society holds monthly scientific meetings in London, and the annual National Astronomy Meeting at varying locations in the British Isles. The RAS publishes the scientific journals Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and Geophysical Journal International , along with the trade magazine Astronomy & Geophysics .
The RAS maintains an astronomy research library, engages in public outreach and advises the UK government on astronomy education. The society recognises achievement in astronomy and geophysics by issuing annual awards and prizes, with its highest award being the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. The RAS is the UK adhering organisation to the International Astronomical Union and a member of the UK Science Council.
The society was founded in 1820 as the Astronomical Society of London to support astronomical research. At that time, most members were 'gentleman astronomers' rather than professionals. It became the Royal Astronomical Society in 1831 on receiving a Royal Charter from William IV. A Supplemental Charter in 1915 opened up the fellowship to women.
One of the major activities of the RAS is publishing refereed journals. It publishes two primary research journals, the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in astronomy and (in association with the Deutsche Geophysikalische Gesellschaft) the Geophysical Journal International in geophysics. It also publishes the magazine A&G which includes reviews and other articles of wide scientific interest in a 'glossy' format. The full list of journals published (both currently and historically) by the RAS, with abbreviations as used for the NASA ADS bibliographic codes is:
Full members of the RAS are styled Fellows, and may use the post-nominal letters FRAS. Fellowship is open to anyone over the age of 18 who is considered acceptable to the society. As a result of the society's foundation in a time before there were many professional astronomers, no formal qualifications are required. However, around three quarters of fellows are professional astronomers or geophysicists. The society acts as the professional body for astronomers and geophysicists in the UK and fellows may apply for the Science Council's Chartered Scientist status through the society. The fellowship passed 3,000 in 2003.
In 2009 an initiative was launched for those with an interest in astronomy and geophysics but without professional qualifications or specialist knowledge in the subject. Such people may join the Friends of the RAS, which offers popular talks, visits and social events.
The Society organises an extensive programme of meetings:
The biggest RAS meeting each year is the National Astronomy Meeting, a major conference of professional astronomers. It is held over 4-5 days each spring or early summer, usually at a university campus in the United Kingdom. Hundreds of astronomers attend each year.
More frequent smaller 'ordinary' meetings feature lectures about research topics in astronomy and geophysics, often given by winners of the society's awards. They are normally held in Burlington House in London on the afternoon of the second Friday of each month from October to May. The talks are intended to be accessible to a broad audience of astronomers and geophysicists, and are free for anyone to attend (not just members of the society). Formal reports of the meetings are published in The Observatory magazine.
Specialist discussion meetings are held on the same day as each ordinary meeting. These are aimed at professional scientists in a particular research field, and allow several speakers to present new results or reviews of scientific fields. Usually two discussion meetings on different topics (one in astronomy and one in geophysics) take place simultaneously at different locations within Burlington House, prior to the day's ordinary meeting. They are free for members of the society, but charge a small entry fee for non-members.
The RAS holds a regular programme of public lectures aimed at a general, non-specialist, audience. These are mostly held on Tuesdays once a month, with the same talk given twice: once at lunchtime and once in the early evening. The venues have varied, but are usually in Burlington House or another nearby location in central London. The lectures are free, though some popular sessions require booking in advance.
The society occasionally hosts or sponsors meetings in other parts of the United Kingdom, often in collaboration with other scientific societies and universities.
The Royal Astronomical Society has a more comprehensive collection of books and journals in astronomy and geophysics than the libraries of most universities and research institutions. The library receives some 300 current periodicals in astronomy and geophysics and contains more than 10,000 books from popular level to conference proceedings. Its collection of astronomical rare books is second only to that of the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh in the UK. The RAS library is a major resource not just for the society but also the wider community of astronomers, geophysicists, and historians.
The society promotes astronomy to members of the general public through their outreach pages for students, teachers, the public and media researchers. The RAS has an advisory role in relation to UK public examinations, such as GCSEs and A Levels.
The RAS sponsors topical groups, many of them in interdisciplinary areas where the group is jointly sponsored by another learned society or professional body:
The first person to hold the title of President of the Royal Astronomical Society was William Herschel, though he never chaired a meeting, and since then the post has been held by many distinguished astronomers. The post has generally had a term of office of two years, but some holders resigned after one year e.g. due to poor health. Francis Baily and George Airy were elected a record four times each. Baily's eight years in the role are a record (Airy served for seven). Since 1876 no-one has served for more than two years in total.
The current president is Emma Bunce, who began her term on 26 June 2020and will serve for two years.
The highest award of the Royal Astronomical Society is its Gold Medal, which can be awarded for any purpose but most frequently recognises extraordinary lifetime achievement.Among the recipients best known to the general public are Albert Einstein in 1926, and Stephen Hawking in 1985.
Other awards are for particular topics in astronomy or geophysics research, which include the Eddington Medal, the Herschel Medal, the Chapman Medal and the Price Medal. Beyond research, there are specific awards for school teaching (Patrick Moore Medal), public outreach (Annie Maunder Medal), instrumentation (Jackson-Gwilt Medal) and history of science (Agnes Mary Clerke Medal). Lectureships include the Harold Jeffreys Lectureship in geophysics, the George Darwin Lectureship in astronomy, and the Gerald Whitrow Lectureship in cosmology.
The society occupies premises at Burlington House, London, where a library and meeting rooms are available to fellows and other interested parties. The society represents the interests of astronomy and geophysics to UK national and regional, and European government and related bodies, and maintains a press office, through which it keeps the media and the public at large informed of developments in these sciences. The society allocates grants to worthy causes in astronomy and geophysics, and assists in the management of the Paneth Trust.
Sir Frank Watson Dyson, KBE, FRS, FRSE was an English astronomer and the ninth Astronomer Royal who is remembered today largely for introducing time signals ("pips") from Greenwich, England, and for the role he played in proving Einstein's theory of general relativity.
Donald Lynden-Bell CBE FRS was a British theoretical astrophysicist. He was the first to determine that galaxies contain supermassive black holes at their centres, and that such black holes power quasars. Lynden-Bell was President of the Royal Astronomical Society (1985–87) and received numerous awards for his work, including the inaugural Kavli Prize for Astrophysics. He worked at the University of Cambridge for his entire career, where he was the first director of its Institute of Astronomy.
The Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) is the highest award given by the RAS. The RAS Council have "complete freedom as to the grounds on which it is awarded" and as such it can be awarded for any reason. Past awards have been given for "outstanding personal researches in the fields of astronomy and geophysics" as well as general contributions to astronomy and geophysics "that may be made through leadership in research programmes, through education and through scientific administration". It has been awarded both for research that has taken a lifetime and for specific pieces of research.
Agnes Mary Clerke was an Irish astronomer and writer, mainly in the field of astronomy. She was born in Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland, and died in London.
The Eddington Medal is awarded by the Royal Astronomical Society for investigations of outstanding merit in theoretical astrophysics. It is named after Sir Arthur Eddington. First awarded in 1953, the frequency of the prize has varied over the years, at times being every one, two or three years. Since 2013 it has been awarded annually.
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) is a peer-reviewed scientific journal covering research in astronomy and astrophysics. It has been in continuous existence since 1827 and publishes letters and papers reporting original research in relevant fields. Despite the name, the journal is no longer monthly, nor does it carry the notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The Jackson-Gwilt Medal is an award that has been issued by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) since 1897. The original criteria were for the invention, improvement, or development of astronomical instrumentation or techniques; for achievement in observational astronomy; or for achievement in research into the history of astronomy. From 2017 onwards, the history of astronomy category has been removed and transferred to a new award, the Agnes Mary Clerke Medal.
Keith Edward Bullen FAA FRS was a New Zealand-born mathematician and geophysicist. He is noted for his seismological interpretation of the deep structure of the Earth's mantle and core. He was Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Sydney in Australia from 1945 until 1971.
Dame Carole Jordan, is a British physicist, astrophysicist, astronomer and academic. From 1994 to 1996, she was President of the Royal Astronomical Society; she was the first woman to hold this appointment. She won the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2005; she was only the third female recipient following Caroline Herschel in 1828 and Vera Rubin in 1996. She was head of the Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford from 2003 to 2004 and 2005 to 2008, and was one of the first female professors in Astronomy in Britain. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2006 for services to physics and astronomy.
The Herschel Medal is awarded by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) for "investigations of outstanding merit in observational astrophysics". It is awarded for a single piece of work so that younger scientists can be candidates for the award. It is named after the RAS's first president, William Herschel. The medal was first awarded in 1974. The medal has been shared twice, in 1977 and 1986. It has been awarded 22 times to a total of 24 people, mostly from the UK.
The Chapman Medal is an award of the Royal Astronomical Society, given for "investigations of outstanding merit in the science of the Sun, space and planetary environments or solar-terrestrial physics". It is named after Sydney Chapman (1888–1970), a British geophysicist who worked on solar-terrestrial physics and aeronomy. The medal was first awarded in 1973, initially on a triennial basis. From 2004-2012 it was awarded biennially, and since 2012 has been annual.
Price Medal is a medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, for investigations of outstanding merit in solid-earth geophysics, oceanography, or planetary sciences. The medal is named after Albert Thomas Price. It was first awarded in 1994 and was initially given every three years. In 2005 this switched to every two years, and from 2014 it has been awarded every year.
Andrew Christopher Fabian is a British astronomer and astrophysicist. He was Director of the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge from 2013 to 2018. He was a Royal Society Research Professor at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge from 1982 to 2013, and Vice-Master of Darwin College, Cambridge from 1997 to 2012. He served as president of the Royal Astronomical Society from May 2008 through to 2010.
Astronomy & Geophysics (A&G) is a scientific journal and trade magazine published on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) by Oxford University Press. It publishes a mixture of content of interest to astronomers and geophysicists: news reports, interviews, topical reviews, historical investigations, obituaries, meeting reports and updates on the activities of the RAS. Full-length articles are peer reviewed.
The National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) is an annual scientific conference of astronomers, usually held in the British Isles. It is sponsored and coordinated by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), and functions as the primary annual meeting of the society. NAM is one of the largest professional astronomy conferences in Europe, with typically around 600 delegates attending.
The President of the Royal Astronomical Society chairs the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and its formal meetings. They also liaise with government organisations, similar societies in other countries, and the International Astronomical Union on behalf of the UK astronomy and geophysics communities. Future presidents serve one year as President Elect before succeeding the previous president.
Michael William Feast was a British-South African astronomer. He served as Director of the South African Astronomical Observatory from 1976–1992, then became a professor at the University of Cape Town.
Anthony Brian Watts FRS is a British marine geologist and geophysicist and Professor of Marine Geology and Geophysics in the Department of Earth Sciences, at the University of Oxford.
John Henry Woodhouse is an English geophysicist, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford.
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