Royal Astronomical Society

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This article is about the British Society. For other organizations, see List of astronomical societies.
Royal Astronomical Society
Entrance to the Royal Astronomical Society 3.jpg
Entrance to the Royal Astronomical Society at Burlington House, London
Abbreviation RAS
Motto Latin: Quicquid nitet notandum
(Whatever shines should be observed)
Formation March 10, 1820; 194 years ago (1820-03-10)
Type NGO, learned society
Legal status Registered charity
Purpose Promote the sciences of astronomy & geophysics
Professional title
Headquarters Burlington House
Coordinates 51°30′32″N 0°8′22″W / 51.50889°N 0.13944°W / 51.50889; -0.13944
Martin Barstow
Formerly called
Astronomical Society of London

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) is a learned society that began as the Astronomical Society of London in 1820 to support astronomical research (mainly carried on at the time by 'gentleman astronomers' rather than professionals). It became the Royal Astronomical Society in 1831 on receiving its Royal Charter from William IV. A Supplemental Charter in 1915 opened up the fellowship to women. It is the UK adhering organisation to the International Astronomical Union and a member of the Science Council, and encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science.[1] Meetings are held in Burlington House, in Piccadilly, London and across the United Kingdom (UK). They are involved in the production of astronomical journals and periodicals. The society has over 3000 members,[1] around a third of whom live outside the UK. In addition, those members of the public who have an interest in astronomy and geophysics and wish to support the work of the society may become Friends of the RAS.


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:


Members of the RAS are styled fellows, and may use the postnominals FRAS.[note 1] 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.

Friends of the Royal Astronomical Society[edit]

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 regular meetings. Ordinary meetings featuring lectures about research topics in astronomy and geophysics are normally held in Burlington House in London on the second Friday of every month from October through to May. Reports of the meetings appear in The Observatory magazine.[3]

Scientific discussion meetings about particular research topics are held on the day of the ordinary meetings. These allow several speakers to present new research results and experts to present reviews of scientific fields. Discussion meetings on two different topics within astronomy and geophysics frequently take place in parallel at different locations within Burlington House.

The Society occasionally hosts meetings in other parts of the United Kingdom, often in collaboration with other scientific societies and universities.

The Society also sponsors the National Astronomy Meeting, a week-long general conference of professional astronomers, normally held each spring at a university campus in the United Kingdom.

The Society holds occasional lunchtime public lectures in Central London aimed at a general, non-specialist, audience.[4]


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.[5]


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.

Associated groups[edit]

The RAS sponsors topical groups, many of them in interdisciplinary areas where the group is jointly sponsored by another learned society or professional body:


David Southwood as President of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2012

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 of 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. Below is a list of all presidents since the society was formed in 1821:[6][7][8]

Start year End year President Notes
1821 1823 William Herschel (first president)
1823 1825 Henry Thomas Colebrooke
1825 1827 Francis Baily
1827 1829 John Herschel
1829 1831 James South
1831 1833 John Brinkley
1833 1835 Francis Baily
1835 1837 George Airy
1837 1839 Francis Baily
1839 1841 John Herschel
1841 1843 John Wrottesley
1843 1845 Francis Baily
1845 1847 William Henry Smyth
1847 1849 John Herschel
1849 1851 George Airy
1851 1853 John Couch Adams
1853 1855 George Airy
1855 1857 Manuel John Johnson
1857 1859 George Bishop
1859 1861 Reverend Robert Main
1861 1863 John Lee
1863 1864 George Airy
1864 1866 Warren De la Rue
1866 1868 Charles Pritchard
1868 1870 Admiral Manners
1870 1872 William Lassell
1872 1874 Arthur Cayley
1874 1876 John Couch Adams Last president to serve for more than 2 years in total.
1876 1878 William Huggins
1878 1880 Lord Lindsay
1880 1882 John Russell Hind
1882 1884 Edward Stone
1884 1886 Edwin Dunkin
1886 1888 James Whitbread Lee Glaisher
1888 1890 William Christie
1890 1892 James Francis Tennant
1892 1893 Edward Ball Knobel[note 2]
1893 1895 William de Wiveleslie Abney
1895 1897 Andrew Ainslie Common
1897 1899 Robert Stawell Ball
1899 1900 George Darwin
1900 1901 Edward Ball Knobel[note 2]
1901 1903 James Whitbread Lee Glaisher
1903 1905 Herbert Hall Turner
1905 1907 William Maw
1907 1909 Hugh Frank Newall
1909 1911 David Gill
1911 1913 Frank Watson Dyson
1913 1915 Edmond Herbert Grove-Hills
1915 1917 Ralph Allen Sampson
1917 1919 Percy Alexander MacMahon
1919 1921 Alfred Fowler
1921 1923 Arthur Eddington
1923 1925 John Louis Emil Dreyer
1925 1927 James Jeans
1927 1929 Theodore Evelyn Reece Phillips
1929 1931 Andrew Claude De Lacherois Crommelin
1931 1933 Harold Knox-Shaw
1933 1935 Frederick John Marrian Stratton
1935 1937 John Henry Reynolds
1937 1939 Harold Spencer Jones
1939 1941 Henry Crozier Keating Plummer
1941 1943 Sydney Chapman
1943 1945 Arthur Milne
1945 1947 Harry Hemley Plaskett
1947 1949 William Michael Herbert Greaves
1949 1951 William Marshall Smart
1951 1953 Herbert Dingle
1953 1955 John Jackson
1955 1957 Harold Jeffreys
1957 1959 William Herbert Steavenson
1959 1961 Roderick Oliver Redman
1961 1963 William McCrea
1963 1965 Richard van der Riet Woolley
1965 1967 Thomas George Cowling
1967 1969 Donald Sadler [9]
1969 1971 Bernard Lovell
1971 1973 Fred Hoyle
1973 1975 Donald Blackwell
1975 1977 Francis Graham-Smith
1977 1979 Alan Cook
1979 1981 Michael Seaton
1981 1983 Arnold Wolfendale
1983 1985 Raymond Hide
1985 1987 Donald Lynden-Bell
1987 1989 Rod Davies
1989 1990 Roger John Tayler[note 3]
1990 1992 Kenneth Pounds
1992 1994 Martin Rees
1994 1996 Carole Jordan[note 4]
1996 1998 Malcolm Longair
1998 2000 David Williams
2000 2002 Nigel Weiss
2002 2004 Jocelyn Bell Burnell
2004 2006 Kathryn Whaler
2006 2008 Michael Rowan-Robinson
2008 2010 Andrew Fabian
2010 2012 Roger Davies
2012 2014 David Southwood[11]
2014 Martin Barstow[12][13]


Asaph Hall's Gold Medal

The highest award of the Royal Astronomical Society is its Gold Medal. Among the recipients best known to the general public are Albert Einstein in 1926, and Stephen Hawking in 1985.

Other awards include the Eddington Medal, the Herschel Medal, the Chapman Medal, the Price Medal and the Jackson-Gwilt Medal. Lectureships include the Harold Jeffreys Lectureship in geophysics, the George Darwin Lectureship in astronomy, and the Gerald Whitrow Lectureship in cosmology.

Other activities[edit]

The council room at the RAS

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 [14]

See also[edit]

Notes & references[edit]


  1. ^ Not to be confused with Fellows of the Royal Asiatic Society who use the same postnominals
  2. ^ a b Edward Ball Knobel served two terms as president, for one year each.
  3. ^ Roger Tayler resigned the presidency a year early due to illness[10]
  4. ^ First female president


  1. ^ a b RAS Website "About the RAS" page;
  2. ^ Tayler, Roger (October 1977). "Editorial: Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 181 (1): i. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  3. ^ "RAS Meetings". Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  4. ^ "RAS Public Lectures". Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  5. ^ RAS Website "RAS Library and archives;
  6. ^ "LIST OF PRESIDENTS AND DATES OF OFFICE". A brief history of the RAS. Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 10 September 2012. 
  7. ^ Dreyer, John L. E.; Turner, Herbert H. (1923). History of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1820-1920 1. London: Royal Astronomical Society. p. 250. 
  8. ^ Tayler, Roger (1987). History of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1920-1980 2. London: Royal Astronomical Society. pp. 235–241. 
  9. ^ Wilkins, G. A. (1991). "Obituary - 1908-1987 Sadler, Donald". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 32: 59. Bibcode:1991QJRAS..32...59W. 
  10. ^ Mestel, L. (1997). "A tribute to Roger J. Tayler (25 October 1929 - 23 January 1997)". Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of India 25: 143. Bibcode:1997BASI...25..143M. 
  11. ^ "Profile: David Southwood". Astronomy & Geophysics 53 (4): 10. 2012. Bibcode:2012A&G....53d..10.. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4004.2012.53410.x. 
  12. ^ "Election results: new President and Council". Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  13. ^ "Elections 2014". Royal Astronomical Society. 9 May 2014. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  14. ^ RAS Website "Grants for Studies in Astronomy and Geophysics"

External links[edit]