A message from future General Secretary Ian Robson

Not being an IAU apparatchik, I was extremely surprised, but hugely honoured, to be invited to become a future General Secretary. My involvement with the IAU began with heading up a new Working Group on communicating astronomy with the public. This became Commission 55 (Communicating Astronomy with the Public – CAP) at the Prague 26th GA in 2006 and I was appointed as the first President. Indeed, it is in outreach that my IAU interest has been focused, organising the first three CAP conferences, which I found to be hugely stimulating. I was the UK SPOC (Single Point Of Contact) and a member of the IYA2009 International Organising Committee, which on reflection took a huge amount of effort but was tremendously rewarding. I also served for three years as Chair of Task Force 3 (Public) and member of the EC for the OAD.

The invitation to serve made me think of the purpose of the IAU and what it actually achieves. I confess that I had not been a dedicated attendee of General Assembly’s but it was in Prague where I thought the fundamental role of the IAU was most clearly demonstrated, and of course I’m referring to the status of Pluto. Being an extragalactic astronomer I was about as far removed from the Solar System as possible, but nevertheless I had my views and it was an educational experience to witness the debate swing to and fro with committed and honourable participants on both sides. For those of us involved in outreach it was obvious that any decision to downgrade Pluto would be a huge event and most probably controversial with the general public. This moment served to thrust professional astronomy into the mainstream news, and provide a platform for IYA2009, which I felt to be an enormous success.

So, what for the future? I see my role in the next three years learning how the organisation actually works, through the Working Groups, Commissions and Divisions to the work of the EC. I will be supporting Ewine, Teresa and Debra in their roles and in the new Strategic Plan. This excellent document clearly sets out the future, but of course the next step is looking at implementation / delivery / action plans to see the goals rolled out throughout the IAU. I am particularly keen to ensure that with the precious resource of many volunteer staff, the offices of the OAD, OAO and the proposed OAE work together in an efficient and effective manner.

Finally, it has been illuminating to note that of the many people who have spoken to me about my new role, about half have congratulated and half commiserated. The slightly worrying aspect is that those mostly ‘in the know’ are in the latter category. I see a truly interesting challenge ahead!

IAN ROBSON is a researcher at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, UKATC. He is past-president of commission 55 and was a force behind the Washington Charter.