IAU Focus Meeting FM5:
Understanding historical observations
to study transient phenomena

August 20 – 22, 2018



  • Sang-Hyeon Ahn, Seoul
  • Aşkin Ankay, Istanbul
  • Dipankar Banerjee, Bangalore
  • James Evans, Puget Sound
  • Lyndsay Fletcher, Glasgow
  • Rita Gautschy, Basel
  • Dagmar Neuhäuser, Jena
  • Ralph Neuhäuser, Jena (co-chair)
  • Thomas Posch, Vienna (co-chair)
  • Brad Schaefer, Baton Rouge
  • John Steele, Providence
  • F. Richard Stephenson, Durham
  • José Vaquero, Badajoz
  • Nikolaus Vogt, Valparaiso
  • Marcus Werner, Kyoto
  • Hamid-Reza Yazdi, Teheran


Scientific Rationale:

There is a large number of historical observations of transient celestial phenomena, always noticed as (problematic?) deviation from the otherwise seemingly eternal, unchanging heavens. In a new area called Terra‒Astronomy, we study transient astrophysical phenomena which potentially affect Terra (e.g. climate, biosphere, etc.) such as solar activity and nearby supernovae ‒ and we investigate them with terrestrial archives, both natural archives (e.g. 14C in trees and 10Be in polar ice as solar activity proxies, or 60Fe in the ocean crust indicating a nearby supernova) and historical archives (e.g. observations recorded in previous centuries to millennia). Written records from all civilizations offer high temporal and spatial resolution, e.g. for aurora observations to reconstruct solar activity. It is essential to correctly understand the historical reports, which are written texts in old to ancient languages, using a different terminology. True understanding means considering intentions of the authors, possible narratives and hidden quotations, etc.



  • Understanding historical records from different cultures
  • Criteria to classify naked-eye observations (e.g. aurorae, comets, sunspots, halo displays) 
  • Reconstruction of solar activity for the past millennia with telescopic and naked-eye sunspots 
  •    as well as aurorae (possibly also with solar-wind-blown comet tails) 
  • Small solar system bodies (comets, meteors, and their connection) 
  • Earth rotation and moon orbit acceleration from historical eclipses and other occultations 
  • Historical novae and supernovae (possibly also SN impostors, kilo-novae, etc.) 
  • Input from astronomy to other disciplines such as history, chronology, geophysics, etc.


Link to External Website:


XXX IAU General Assembly | ACV - Austria Center Vienna  | Bruno-Kreisky-Platz 1  | 1220 Vienna