British Astronomical Association

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British Astronomical Association
Abbreviation BAA
Motto Supporting amateur astronomers since 1890
Formation 1890
Legal status Non-profit company
Purpose Amateur astronomy
  • Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0DU
Region served
Amateur astronomers
Jeremy Shears
Main organ
BAA Council
Website BAA

The British Astronomical Association (BAA) was formed in 1890 as a national body to support the UK's amateur astronomers.

Throughout its history, the BAA has encouraged observers to make scientifically valuable observations, often in collaboration with professional colleagues. Among the BAA's first presidents was Walter Maunder, discoverer of the seventeenth century dearth in sunspots now known as the Maunder Minimum which he achieved by analysing historical observations. Later, this spirit of observing the night sky scientifically was championed by George Alcock, who discovered five comets and five novae using nothing more than a pair of binoculars.

The BAA continues to contribute to the science of astronomy, even despite modern competition from space-based telescopes and highly automated professional observatories. Modern digital sensors, coupled with techniques such as lucky imaging, mean that even modest amateur equipment can rival what professional observatories could have achieved a few decades ago. The vastness of the night sky, together with the sheer number of amateur observatories, mean that BAA members are often the first to pick up new phenomena. In recent years, the Association's leading supernova hunter, Tom Boles (President 2003-5), has discovered over 150 supernovae. He now holds the world record for the greatest number of such events discovered by any individual in history.[1]

More recently the BAA has worked increasingly with international partners. Modern communications allow astronomers in different timezones around the world to hand over the monitoring of variable stars and planetary weather systems to colleagues on other continents as the Sun comes up, resulting in a 24-hour watch on the sky. For example, the Association's Variable Star Section works closely with the American Association of Variable Star Observers, meanwhile its Jupiter Section works with a global network of planetary observers through the JUPOS collaboration.


Norman Rogers, a member of the BAA, in his solar observatory.

The Association's longest standing publication is its Journal, published six times a year and sent to all members. Once a year, the Association also publishes a Handbook which comprises an almanac for the following year. Electronic bulletins are issued to give more immediate notice by email of discoveries, astronomical news and BAA meetings.


The Association operates a wide range of observing Sections which specialise in particular branches of astronomy, welcoming observers and astronomy enthusiasts of all abilities in a spirit of collaboration and mutual help.

It also founded and supports the Campaign for Dark Skies, a UK-wide campaign against excessive light pollution.

The BAA leases office space from the Royal Astronomical Society, in Burlington House, Piccadilly, London.[2] Many of its meetings are also held there.[3]


In October 1890, the BAA was formed to support amateur astronomers in the UK. In many ways it is a counterpart to the Royal Astronomical Society - which primarily supports professional observers - and the two organisations have long shared the same premises. The idea for this organisation was first publicly proposed by Irish astronomer William H. S. Monck in a letter published in The English Mechanic on July 12.[4]

Playing a significant role in the founding of the Association was English astronomer E. Walter Maunder, with the help of his brother Frid Maunder and William H. Maw. The first meeting of the Association was held on 1890 October 24, with 60 of the initial 283 members in attendance.[5] Initially it was decided to run the association with a provisional 48-member Council[6] that included four women: Margaret Huggins, Elizabeth Brown, Agnes Clerke and Agnes Giberne.[6][7]

The society formed several observing Sections for specialised topics in astronomy. Elizabeth Brown, possibly the only woman in England at the time to own her own observatory, became head of the Solar Section.[8] The Association was presented with or bequeathed various astronomical instruments, but lacked the funds to build their own observatory. A total of 477 instruments were acquired during the first 117 years since the Association was founded.[9]

The Association held monthly meetings in London, but it also established some regional branches to cater for members who could not attend London activities. The first of these was the Northwestern Branch which served members in the Northwest of England, centred on Manchester.[10] A West of Scotland Branch was established in 1894, based in Glasgow.[11]

In 1891, a group of amateurs in Australia began discussing the idea of setting up branches of the BAA in their own country. Only the first of these, the New South Wales Branch established in 1895, would survive for more than a brief period. This branch became the second oldest astronomy organisation in Australia.[12]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Amateur British astronomer takes world record for most supernova". 11 September 2009. Retrieved 26 August 2010. '2009ij' in August 2009 ... number 125 or '2009io' a few nights later 
  2. ^ "A Virtual Tour of the RAS Premises: The First Floor". Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 27 October 2014. the Herschel Room, which houses the British Astronomical Association 
  3. ^ "Calendar of Meetings and Events". British Astronomical Association. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  4. ^ Elliott, I. (September 1987), "The Monck Plaque", Irish Astronomical Journal, 18 (2): 122, Bibcode:1987IrAJ...18..122E 
  5. ^ a b McKim, R. J. (August 1890), "E.W. Maunder and the formation of the British Astronomical Association", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 100 (4): 166–168, Bibcode:1990JBAA..100..166M 
  6. ^ a b Maunder, E. Walter; Maunder, T. Frid (October 1890), "Circulars issued by the Provisional Committee", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 1: 17–19, Bibcode:1890JBAA....1...17M 
  7. ^ Bruck, M. T. (September 1991), "Companions in Astronomy- Margaret Lindsay Huggins and Agnes Mary Clerke", Irish Astronomical Journal, 20 (2): 75, Bibcode:1991IrAJ...20...70B 
  8. ^ Creese, M. (August 1998), "Elizabeth Brown (1830-1899), solar astronomer", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 108 (4): 193–197, Bibcode:1998JBAA..108..193C 
  9. ^ Marriott, R. A. (December 2007), "The BAA observatories and the origins of the instrument collection", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 117 (6): 309–313, Bibcode:2007JBAA..117..309M 
  10. ^ "North-Western Branch, Manchester", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 2 (5): 248–252, February 1892, Bibcode:1892JBAA....2..248. 
  11. ^ "West of Scotland, Glasgow", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 5 (3): 148, February 1892, Bibcode:1894JBAA....5..148. 
  12. ^ Orchiston, W.; Perdrix, J. (April 2002), "A history of the British Astronomical Association in Australia: the fate of the Branches", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 112 (2): 68–77, Bibcode:2002JBAA..112...68O 
  13. ^ "Obituary: Captain William Noble". Bibcode:1905MNRAS..65Q.342. 
  14. ^ "Obituary: Arthur Matthew Weld Downing". Bibcode:1918MNRAS..78R.241. 
  15. ^ a b Kinder, A. (October 2002), "A meeting of the BAA, 1893 April 26", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 112 (5): 243–244, Bibcode:2002JBAA..112..243K 
  16. ^ "Officers and Council for the Year, Oct. 1896, to Oct. 1897", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 7 (1): 9, October 1896, Bibcode:1896JBAA....7....9. 
  17. ^ "Officers and Council for the Year, Oct. 1897, to Oct. 1898", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 8 (1): 10, October 1897, Bibcode:1897JBAA....8....1. 
  18. ^ "Obituary: Samuel Arthur Saunder". Bibcode:1913MNRAS..73Q.214. 
  19. ^ "Obituary: Frederick William Levander". Bibcode:1917MNRAS..77..302.. doi:10.1093/mnras/77.4.302. 
  20. ^ "Obituary: Henry Park Hollis". Bibcode:1940MNRAS.100R.249. 
  21. ^ "Biography: "Ernest Elliott Markwick: variable stars and military campaigns" by Jeremy Shears". arXiv:1109.4234free to read. Bibcode:2011arXiv1109.4234S. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa British Astronomical Association List of Members, 1969 April 30, London: British Astronomical Association, 1969, p. 116 
  • History of Astronomy: An Encyclopedia, Routledge, 1996, ISBN 1-55002-208-3 
  • Sidgwick, J. B. (1981), Amateur astronomer's handbook, Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-24034-7 

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