British Astronomical Association

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

British Astronomical Association
MottoSupporting amateur astronomers since 1890
Legal statusNon-profit company
PurposeAmateur astronomy
Region served
UK and Worldwide
Amateur astronomers
Alan Lorrain
Main organ
BAA Council

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.


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 also established branches to cater for members who could not attend London activities and desired to meet in their own areas.

The first of these was the Northwestern Branch which served members in the Northwest of England, centred on Manchester.[10] The Branch was formed in 1892, in 1903 it seceded from the BAA to form the Manchester Astronomical Society.[11]

  • North Western Branch Presidents
    • S. O. Kell 1892-1895
    • Prof. T. H. Core 1895-1903

In 1891, a group of amateurs in Australia began discussing the idea of setting up branches of the BAA in their own country. What would become the New South Wales Branch was established in 1895[12] and would be the only one to survive for more than a brief period. This branch became the second oldest astronomy organisation in Australia[13] and is still in existence.

  • New South Wales Branch Presidents
    • John Tebbutt[14] 1894-1896
    • George Handley Knibbs 1896-1898
    • Rev. Thomas Roseby[15] 1898-1900
    • Walter Frederick Gale[16] 1900-1902
    • William John MacDonnell[17] 1902-1904
    • George Denton Hirst[18] 1904-1906
    • Charles J. Merfield[19] 1906-1907
    • Hugh Wright 1907-1909
    • James Nangle[20][21] 1909-1911
    • Rev. Thomas Roseby 1911-1914
    • Walter Frederick Gale 1914-1923
    • Rev. Edward F. Pigot 1923-1925
    • J. J. Richardson 1925-1927
    • Walter Frederick Gale 1927-1929
    • James Nangle 1929-1930
    • Walter Frederick Gale 1930-1932 & 1932-1933
    • Rev. William O'Leary[22] 1933-1934 & 1934-1935
    • Walter Frederick Gale 1935-1936
    • Alan Patrick Mackerras[23] 1936-1937
    • Walter Frederick Gale 1937-1938 & 1938-1939
    • Henry Herbert Baker[24] 1939-1940
    • Harley Weston Wood[25] 1940-1942
    • Walter Frederick Gale 1942-1943
    • Alan Patrick Mackerras 1943-1945
    • Horace Edgar Frank Pinnock 1945-1946
    • Alan Patrick Mackerras 1946-1947
    • W. H. Robertson 1947-1950
    • D. Coleman-Trainor 1950-1951
    • Alan Patrick Mackerras 1951-1954
    • Harley Weston Wood 1954-1956
    • Rev. Thomas Noël Burke-Gaffney[26] 1956-1958
    • W. Kemp Robertson 1958-1960
    • F. J. Bannister 1960-1962
    • Alan Patrick Mackerras 1962-1964
    • W. H. Robertson 1964-1966
    • Noel James Halsey Bissaker[27] 1966-1968
    • W. Swanston 1968-1971
    • W. E. Moser 1971-1974
    • K. Sims 1974-1976
    • R. Giller 1976-1978
    • T. L. Morgan 1978-1979
    • F. N. Traynor 1979-1981
    • S. J. Elwin 1981-1982
    • F. N. Traynor 1982-1984
    • J. Jackson 1984-1986
    • Colin Bembrick 1986-1988
    • D. Alan Yates 1988-1990
    • 1990-2000 unknown
    • 2000-2001 Dr. Wayne Orchiston
    • 2001-date unknown

A West of Scotland Branch was established by an inaugural meeting held on 23 November 1894, to be based in Glasgow.[28] In 1905 authority was granted to enrol members from the whole of Scotland, but it was not until 1937 that the name was changed to "Scottish Branch". In 1954 the Branch seceded from the BAA to form the Astronomical Society of Glasgow.

  • West of Scotland Branch Presidents
    • Walter C. Bergius 1895-1897
    • John Danskin[29] 1897-1899
    • Rev. Edward Bruce Kirk[30] 1899-1901
    • John Danskin 1901-1903
    • Robert Robertson 1903-1905
    • James Waddell 1905-1907
    • Major John Cassells[31] 1907-1909
    • Archibald Campbell 1909-1911
    • Dr. Alexander D. Ross[32] 1911-1913
    • Archibald A. Young 1913-1915
    • John Johnston Ross[33] 1915-1917
    • Frank C. Thomson 1917-1919
    • Henry McEwan[34] 1919-1921
    • John O. Ross 1921-1923
    • John D. McDougall 1923-1925
    • Charles Cochrane 1925-1927
    • Charles Clelland 1927-1929
    • Thomas L. MacDonald 1929-1931
    • David Buchanan Duncanson[35] 1931-1933
    • William B. Inverarity 1933-1935
    • George Douglas Buchanan[35] 1935-1937
    • Prof. William Marshall Smart[36] 1937-1938
  • Scottish Branch Presidents
    • Prof. William Marshall Smart 1938-1939
    • Prof. William Michael Herbert Greaves[37] 1939-1941
    • Charles T. McIvin 1941-1943
    • Prof. William Marshall Smart 1943-1945
    • Rev. J. Graham 1945-1947
    • W. H. Marshall 1947-1949
    • C. Walmsley 1951-1953
    • Dr. T. R. Tannahill 1953-1954

In 1896 an East of Scotland Branch was formed. This Branch was dissolved due to lack of support on 3 October 1902.

  • East of Scotland Branch Presidents
    • William Peck 1896-1898
    • William Firth 1898-1900
    • John Turner 1900-1902

In 1897 a second Australian Branch was formed by 13 members living in Victoria. At the London AGM of 1907 the President noted that "the Victoria Branch appears to be in a moribund condition".

The Victoria Branch was re-established in 1951 (as 'The Victorian Branch'), but only lasted until 1963.

  • Victorian Branch Presidents
    • Philip Crosbie Morrison 1951-1952
    • George Anderson[39] 1953-1957
    • H. B. Lewis 1958-1959
    • Dr. G. F. Walker 1959-1960
    • C. S. Middleton 1960-1961
    • George Anderson 1961-1962

In 1901 at a meeting of the Birmingham Natural History and Philosophical Society it was proposed to form a Midland Branch of the BAA. Support proved to be less than had been envisioned and there are no reports of any activity after 1903.

What would become the BAA Western Australia Branch started as the Western Australian Astronomical Society in 1912. When difficulties were encountered in the mid nineteen-twenties Prof. Ross highlighted the advantages of restarting within the BAA. The inaugural meeting was held on 29 March 1927. However support was still lacking and there is no recorded activity after September 1929.[40]

  • Western Australia Branch President
    • Prof. Alexander David Ross[32] 1927


See also


  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. 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. 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. "About Us". Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  12. "1988JBAA...98...75O Page 75". Retrieved 2017-02-06.
  13. 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
  14. "1918MNRAS..78..252. Page 252". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  15. "1920MNRAS..80Q.354. Page 354". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  16. "1945JBAA...56...18. Page 18". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
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  21. Cobb, Joan E. Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  22. "1940MNRAS.100R.255. Page 256". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  23. "1974JBAA...84..198W Page 198". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  24. "1941JBAA...51...66. Page 66". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  25. "1985QJRAS..26..225R Page 225". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  26. "1959JBAA...69..133. Page 134". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  27. Centre, The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research. "Bissaker, Noel James Halsey - Biographical entry - Encyclopedia of Australian Science". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  28. "West of Scotland, Glasgow", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 5 (3): 148, February 1892, Bibcode:1894JBAA....5..148.
  29. "1906MNRAS..66Q.174. Page 174". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  30. "1929MNRAS..89Q.311. Page 311". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
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  32. "1967QJRAS...8..297. Page 297". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  33. "1949MNRAS.109Q.149. Page 149". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  34. "1955JBAA...65..363. Page 363". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  35. "1941JBAA...52...25. Page 26". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  36. "1977QJRAS..18..140O Page 1:140". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  37. "1956JBAA...66..172. Page 172". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  38. Home, R. W. Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  39. Holroyd, J. P. Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  40. "2002JBAA..112...68O Page 68". Retrieved 2017-02-06.
  41. "Obituary: Captain William Noble". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 65: 342. 1905. Bibcode:1905MNRAS..65Q.342.. doi:10.1093/mnras/65.4.342a.
  42. "Obituary: Arthur Matthew Weld Downing". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 78: 241. 1918. Bibcode:1918MNRAS..78R.241.. doi:10.1093/mnras/78.4.241a.
  43. 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
  44. "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.
  45. "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.
  46. "Obituary: Samuel Arthur Saunder". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 73: 214. 1913. Bibcode:1913MNRAS..73Q.214.. doi:10.1093/mnras/73.4.214.
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  49. British Astronomical Association List of Members, 1969 April 30, London: British Astronomical Association, 1969, p. 116
  50. Shears, Jeremy (2011). "Biography: "Ernest Elliott Markwick: variable stars and military campaigns" by Jeremy Shears". arXiv:1109.4234.
  51. Obituary, BAA Journal, 127, page 58 (2017)
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