Memorandum submitted by the Royal Astronomical
The Royal Astronomical Society was founded in
the year 1820 and received the grant of a Royal Charter in 1831;
its aims as stated in the first Byelaw are "the encouragement
and promotion of astronomy and geophysics." The Society is
a professional and learned Society with an international membership
of 3,000. The Society's scientific interests span a range including
the solid earth, the solar system, stars, galaxies and cosmology.
The two grant awarding Research Councils with which the RAS is
connected are the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
(PPARC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
Any person over the age of 18 may apply for
Fellowship, including amateur scientists. Applications may be
made in two ways, either sponsored by a Fellow with personal knowledge
of the candidate and supported by another Fellow, or through a
newly introduced way intended to open up membership, by the candidate
making direct application to the Society, providing evidence of
their work or interest in astronomy or geophysics. The terms of
the Fellowship encourage the participation of younger scientists
and currently the Society has 150 young scientists.
3. THE SOCIETY'S
The Society receives no direct Government funding.
The Society actively fulfils its Charter commitment in a number
The Society publishes front-line research papers
in two academic journals which enjoy international acclaim. Monthly
Notices is the world's leading astronomical journal and Geophysical
Journal International for geophysics is the leading European publication
on solid earth geophysics. Publication is free of charge to contributing
scientists, of whom there were 3,000 in 2001; two thirds of these
work overseas. In addition, the Society publishes Astronomy and
Geophysics which has broader appeal and carries reports of scientific
meetings, papers on current topics, correspondence and book reviews.
(b) Public Understanding of Science
The Society promotes the wide appreciation and
understanding of astronomy and geophysics both in the classroom
and by the general public. Astronomy has a key role in attracting
young people into physical science. Recent activities at schools
level have included advising on the content of astronomy and geophysics
in the National Curriculum, holding teacher training days at a
number of venues around the country, running national competitions
for school children, publishing information leaflets and a 32-page
booklet on Astronomy in the UK, and setting up resource centres
for the loan of teaching material. At University level, with commercial
and PPARC sponsorship, the Committee has organised annual prizes
which are awarded for the best doctoral theses in astronomy and
(ii) Information for the Public and the Media
The Society has an active programme in the field
of education and media information. A Press Officer issues frequent
and regular media releases to an international list of recipients
on the latest astronomical discoveries and events, special emphasis
being placed on British achievements. She also provides a media
enquiry service, routinely dealing with many requests per week
for assistance and information. She is assisted by second Press
Officer (Space Science) financed from an external grant, appointed
to extend and develop this service by making expertise in space
The Society maintains an excellent Library which
contains material for research in astronomy and geophysics as
well as the histories of these sciences and of associated fields
such as navigation. The Society aims at a comprehensive collection
of the current literature on astronomy and the relevant sections
of geophysics. The Library staff respond to scientific and historical
enquiries from members and from the public and provide material
for a wide variety of publication media. Collections of the Society's
instruments are currently on loan to museums, universities and
observatories throughout the country.
(iii) Grants for Astronomy
The Society has custodianship of various Trust
Funds and Bequests, from which it makes grants for Astronomy.
It targets especially recipients and activities outside the normal
scope of the remit of Research Councils.
The Society holds scientific discussion meetings
three times per month (except during the summer), in London which
are attended by its members and to which overseas speakers are
invited. An annual National Astronomy Meeting is held, normally
at a University location and attended by in excess of 300 astronomers;
members also participate in similar annual geophysical meetings.
Regional astronomy and geophysics meetings are occasionally held
at out of London venues. In 2001, the Society sponsored or cosponsored
27 meetings in five cities at which 180 hours of talks were given
by 500 lecturers of whom 10 per cent were from overseas. The Society
meetings are open to both Fellows and non-Fellows.
The Society also contributes to the annual meetings
of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, National
Astronomy Week and the Edinburgh Science Festival. The Society
is the UK's Adhering body to the International Astronomical Union
(IAU). On behalf of the UK the Society organised the 24th General
Assembly of the IAU in Manchester in 2000 attracting 2,000 participants
from the entire world. The Society has a number of affiliations
within the international scientific communities. Five prestigious
named lectures recognising the work of eminent Fellows are given
each year by invited speakers.
The Society regularly submits evidence to a
number of inquiries held by the Government, Parliamentary Committees
and other scientific organisations and institutions, on matters
concerning the organisation of science and technology, scientific
education at all levels, and on the health of fundamental research.
Society representatives attend meetings of the Parliamentary scientific
The Society gets no direct Government funding
of any kind. The Society has charitable status (in common with
many other learned and professional societies) and its headquarters
building is in Burlington House (along with several other societies)
so to that extent the Society can be said to benefit in financial
terms indirectly from its charitable status and its physical location.
Since 1834 the Royal Astronomical Society has occupied Government
accommodation free of charge, firstly at Somerset House and latterly
at Burlington House.