The XXVIIIth General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) ends today in Beijing, China. One of the largest astronomy meetings ever held, it saw a pot pourri of frontline astronomy topics being presented. The General Assembly resulted in the redefinition of the astronomical unit, and the meeting played an essential role in the establishing a number of science- and technology-related collaborations throughout the world. The IAU also acquired a new divisional structure that fits better with the current astronomy landscape, focusing on education, outreach and development.
The IAU XXVIIIth General Assembly in Beijing China ends today, Friday 31 August 2012, after two busy weeks packed with presentations centred on both astronomical heritage as well as new results (iau1203 - http://www.iau.org/public_press/news/detail/iau1203/ - and iau1205: http://www.iau.org/public_press/news/detail/iau1205/). The General Assembly was an enormous success, with almost 3000 attendees from about 80 countries all around the world, including almost 100 members of the press. These numbers made it the largest IAU General Assembly ever organised. The participants enjoyed a vast collection of scientific presentations in eight Symposia, seven Joint Discussions and eighteen Special Sessions focused on development, advancement and collaboration within astronomy.
Three countries joined the organisation at this occasion: Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan. The General Assembly also approved 1006 new individual IAU members at its Closing Ceremony, bringing the total to almost 11 000 members.
Four Resolutions (http://www.iau.org/administration/resolutions/general_assemblies/) were approved by vote at the Closing Ceremony. These included new guidelines for the designations and specifications of optical and infrared filter passbands, the redefinition of the astronomical unit of length, the establishment of an International Near-Earth Object (NEO) early warning system and the restructuring of the IAU Divisions in order to bring them in line with current major research areas in astronomy and enable the IAU to be more involved with education and outreach.
As the first large astronomical meeting in China, this was also a historic occasion for science in Asia, and provided a unique opportunity, especially for young astronomers, to get involved in exchanging ideas, presenting their research and settling their paths in terms of career development.
The General Assembly also fostered many important international collaborations and partnerships (see for instance the IAU press release iau1204 - http://www.iau.org/public_press/news/detail/iau1204/). The president of the Chinese Astronomical Society, Xiangqun Cui, says: "This IAU General Assembly provides us with an opportunity to exchange views extensively with international counterparts. Hopefully, it will promote the development of Chinese astronomy, and provide a platform for international cooperation in astronomy." This aspect was also recognised by the outgoing IAU president, Robert Williams: "This General Assembly was a landmark for Chinese astronomy."
The new IAU President is Norio Kaifu, the new IAU General Secretary Thierry Montmerle, the new Assistant General Secretary Piero Benvenuti and the new IAU President-elect Silvia Torres-Peimbert.
One of the absolute highlights of the meeting was the visit of His Excellency Xi Jinping, the Vice-President of the People's Republic of China. Among the many inspiring words in his speech at the General Assembly were: "Science and technology are the most active, most revolutionary factors in eco-social development. Every grand advancement of human civilisation is closely related to the revolutionary breakthrough in science and technology."
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The IAU is an international astronomical organisation of almost 11 000 professional astronomers from 90 countries. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and surface features on them.
* IAU website: http://www.iau.org/
* IAU General Assembly website: http://www.astronomy2012.org/dct/page/1
* Resolutions adopted at IAU General Assemblies: http://www.iau.org/administration/resolutions/general_assemblies/