AAS Meeting #194 - Chicago, Illinois, May/June 1999
Session 103. Instrumentation, Simulation Databases and Astronomical Organizations
Oral, Thursday, June 3, 1999, 2:00-3:30pm, Waldorf

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[103.06] Characteristics of Astronomy-Related Organizations

A. Heck (Strasbourg Astronomical Observatory)

Several characteristics of contemporaneous astronomy-related organizations have been investigated from an exhaustive up-to-date world-wide sample (the master files for the directory StarGuides and the database StarWorlds): geographical distributions of organizations and of observing facilities, as well as ages and sizes of currently active organizations. Interesting comments are drawn from each of these studies and from their inter-comparison.

Geographical distributions are also compared with a survey of observing facilities carried out around 1900 by Stroobant {\em et al.}: the overall aspect did not change over the past century -- another example of the well-known self-reinforcement effect. This however could be interpreted as an alarming factor. Apart from strong densities in Europe and North America, the most striking feature is the desperate emptiness of most of the African continent and of so-called third-world countries.

Those investigations show also that numerous astronomy-related organizations are not involved in direct observing. Cultural components and deliberate policies in some countries are also clearly visible, especially at the level of associations, planetariums and public observatories. The astronomy-related publishers and software producers are interestingly concentrated in only a few places.

Some events had a clear impact on the rate of foundation of astronomy-related organizations, such as World Wars I and II, the beginning of space exploration and the landing of man on the Moon, but not all of them affected in the same way Western Europe and North America. It is still too early to assess the real impact of the end of the Cold War. Also if the rate of creation of astronomy-related organizations since the end of the fifties is really impressive, there is no indication that this should still go on that way half a century later, especially at a time the society at large has obviously moved to other priorities than space investigations and cosmological perceptions.

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