The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) began as the Astronomical Society of London in 1820 to support astronomical research (mainly carried on at the time by 'gentleman astronomers' rather than professionals). It became the Royal Astronomical Society in 1831 on receiving its Royal Charter from William IV. A Supplemental Charter in 1915 opened up the fellowship to women. It is the UK adhering organisation to the International Astronomical Union and a member of the Science Council.
One of the major activities of the RAS is publishing refereed journals. It currently publishes two world-leading primary research journals, MNRAS in astronomy and (in association with the Deutsche Geophysikalische Gesellschaft) GJI in geophysics, and A&G, which publishes review and other articles of wide interest in a 'glossy' format. The full list of journals published by the RAS, with abbreviations as used for the NASA ADS bibliographic codes is:
- Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society (MmRAS): 1822 – 1978
- Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS): Since 1827
- Geophysical Supplement to Monthly Notices (MNRAS): 1922 – 1957
- Geophysical Journal (GeoJ): 1958 – 1987
- Geophysical Journal International (GeoJI): Since 1988
- Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (QJRAS): 1960 – 1996
- Astronomy & Geophysics (A&G): Since 1997
Members of the RAS are styled fellows, and may use the postnominals FRAS. Fellowship is open to anyone over the age of 18 who is considered acceptable to the society. As a result of the society's foundation in a time before there were many professional astronomers, no formal qualifications are required. However, around three quarters of fellows are professional astronomers or geophysicists. The society acts as the professional body for astronomers and geophysicists in the UK and fellows may apply for the Science Council's Chartered Scientist status through the society. The fellowship passed 3,000 for the first time during 2003.
The Society regularly organises monthly discussion meetings on topics in astronomy and geophysics, which are usually held in London on the second Friday of every month from September through to June. It also sponsors the UK National Astronomy Meeting, a lengthier meeting of professional astronomers held each spring, and occasionally meetings in other parts of the UK.
Jointly with the Geological Society of London, the Society sponsors the British Geophysical Association.
The first person to hold the title of President of the Royal Astronomical Society was William Herschel, though he never chaired a meeting, and since then the post has been held by many distinguished astronomers. The post is currently offered for a period of two years.
Notable former Presidents:
The highest award of the Royal Astronomical Society is its Gold Medal. Among the recipients best known to the general public are Albert Einstein in 1926, and Stephen Hawking in 1985.
Other awards include the Eddington Medal, the Herschel Medal , the Chapman Medal , the Price Medal and the Jackson-Gwilt Medal. Lectureships include the Harold Jeffreys Lectureship in geophysics, the George Darwin Lectureship in astronomy, and the Gerald Whitrow Lectureship in cosmology.
The Society occupies premises at Burlington House, London, where a substantial library and meeting rooms are available to fellows and, by arrangement, other interested parties. The Society represents the interests of astronomy and geophysics to UK national and regional, and European government and related bodies, and maintains a press office, through which it keeps the media and the public at large informed of relevant developments in these sciences. It maintains links with parallel learned societies in the UK and abroad, and participates in their administration at an international level.