The IAU Newspaper: The Story Behind Keplersche Nachrichten

One of the most creative and oddly challenging aspects of every General Assembly is coming up with a name and format. Each triennium, the local organising committee and the editorial team brainstorm, debate, and eventually settle on that one name and layout that will go down in the archives. This year our newspaper, Keplersche Nachrichten, celebrates the history of astronomy while bringing the format of the paper into a new digital era.

The GA newspaper

Cosmos was IAU’s first GA newspaper. This shows the banner of the first edition, published 12 August 1958.

Since 1958, IAU General Assemblies have released daily newspapers “intended to help all of us to establish mutual understanding, friendly contacts and provide a forum for an exchange of ideas” (K.F. Ogorodnikov in Cosmos). These early newspapers were issued in the three official languages of the IAU — French, Russian and English — and were printed as standard newspapers. Over the decades, the paper evolved and since the 1980s has only been produced in English. The format of the paper has also changed, both reflecting advances in desktop publishing and digital cameras. Societal changes have also played a role, and with the 2015 GA in Hawai’i, the IAU began efforts to go green. The Kaiʻaleleiaka (translation: The Milky Way) became the IAU’s first electronic newspaper. This PDF-only paper paved the way for this year’s Keplersche Nachrichten  a digital paper that brings you the ‘click to learn more’ experience that you are used to.

Celebrating Kepler and his role in Austrian science

A physical model of how Kepler envisioned planetary orbits nesting within one another in Mysterium Cosmographicum.

Born in 1571, Johannes Kepler changed the Western World’s understanding of orbits with his three laws of planetary motions. This German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer studied both in the seminary at Maulbronn, and later at the University of Tübingen, where he studied mathematics under Michael Maestlin. While Kepler originally planned to be a minister, his excellence in mathematics led to him being recommended for a position as teacher of mathematics and astronomy in Graz, Austria. With this remarkable change in life plans, he began an academic career in the sciences. It was while working in Graz from 1594 to 1600 that he completed his first academic text, Mysterium Cosmographicum, a defense of the Copernican system that introduced the idea that orbits circumscribed nested platonic solids.

Although Kepler lived in Prague from 1600 to 1612, it wasn’t long before he returned to Austria. With political changes challenging his prospects in Bohemia, Kepler looked for new opportunities across Europe. At this time, Galileo was departing his position at the University of Padua, Italy, and Kepler could have stepped in to fill the mathematics professorship. Instead, wishing to stay in German territories, Kepler moved to Austria to be a mathematics teacher in Linz. It was in Linz that Kepler completed the Rudolphine Tables and wrote De vero Anno, a book that detailed how a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter may have led to the Star of Bethlehem. It was also while in Linz that he completed his astronomy text, Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae, as well as other key works, including his Harmonices Mundi.

Honouring the importance of Astronomische Nachrichten

Launched in 1821, Astronomische Nachrichten is one of the oldest international journals in astronomy. Heinrich Christian Schumacher founded the journal with patronage of Christian VIII, King of Denmark. The journal is still published to this day (in English only since the 1990s) by Wiley-VCH in Potsdam.