It is my great pleasure to welcome IAU members and guests to the XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Hawaii is a special cultural and economic center of the Pacific region, and it is one of the most active frontiers of astronomical observations in the world because of its unique geological, meteorological, and geographical features. This is a special occasion for the IAU, to hold the General Assembly in Hawaii for the first time in its nearly 100-year history.
The Honolulu GA will also be historical because the IAU is completing the reform of its scientific organizational structure by total reconstruction of its Commissions. All new Commissions, which were approved by Executive Committee action in April, were organized through electronic voting in June and July, and they will begin activities for the coming triennium after Honolulu under a fresh, inclusive mandate. Through this reform the role of the nine Divisions becomes more central to IAU activity, and the Commissions will be flexible in responding to the rapid evolution of astronomy in the 21st century.
The meetings of the Honolulu GA are also organized under a new structure. Six IAU Symposia covering wide and attractive fields are being held, as usual. However, instead of the previous Joint Discussions and Special Sessions we now support 22 Focus Meetings of 2-3 days duration, in addition to Division Meetings organized by each Division. These changes are an inevitable and beneficial evolution for the IAU as a rapidly growing international union of scientists. Still, we need to observe activities under the new structure carefully, identify any problems that occur, and find better ways for the IAU of the future.
Throughout its long history astronomy has always been new and exciting. Now in the 21st century we are constructing 30-meter-class telescopes and working on the intercontinental Square Kilometre Array radio observatory. We are discussing how to prove the inflation hypothesis at the beginning of the expansion of the universe, how to reveal the nature of dark energy, and how we can detect evidence for life on other planets, including those in other planetary systems. The IAU remains youthful, with a continuously incoming generation of young members; in Honolulu more than 1,200 new individual members — many of whom are recent PhD’s — will be added, which will increase our number of individual members by more than 10%!
The IAU is also broadening its connection with other communities in the world through education, the promotion of scientific knowledge, and contact with the general public. We are proud that the IAU is among the leading international scientific unions in such activities. The Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) and the Office of Astronomy Outreach (OAO) have been actively developing cooperation with schoolteachers, students and children, amateur astronomers, and the general public worldwide. With the increasing scope of astronomy we acknowledge that occasional conflicts between our growing scientific activities and the interests of the public may occur. Here in Hawaii we hear voices that criticize the development of telescopes atop Maunakea, and in fact such criticism is not new for astronomers. The history of astronomy and its profoundly positive impact on civilization makes us 100% certain that astronomical observations and research will continue to open a vast new world for humankind, give us a better perspective to understand our world, and provide excitement and dreams to children in the world. In parallel, we truly wish to respect all cultures, to remain entirely open in our activity, and to live with all nations and cultures together.
We anticipate that the IAU XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu will be one of the most active and memorable such meetings in the history of the IAU. I wish all of us an exciting, fruitful, and joyful time during the GA.
Welcome to the GA! Welcome to Honolulu!