British Astronomical Association 1890

Formed in 1890, the British Astronomical Association’s (BAA) purpose was to support amateur astronomers and encourage observers to make scientifically valuable observations. In this sense, its formation was somewhat counterpart to that of the Royal Astronomical Society formed in 1820 which was founded to support professional astronomers. The BAA was founded by English astronomer E. Walter Maunder with the help of his brother Frid and William H. Maw. Maunder was most renowned for his study of sunspots and the solar magnetic cycle which led to his identification of the period from 1645 to 1715 that is now known as the Maunder Minimum. He also travelled extensively outside of England to observe six solar eclipses, including the West Indies, Mauritius, Canada and India.

Less than a third of its initial 283 members attended the first meeting in 1890. The association can be noted for its inclusion of women during this period. Initially it ran with a 48-member Council which included four women. Of these women, Elizabeth Brown was possibly the only woman in England who owned her own observatory. Brown also became Director of the Solar Section of the BAA. The association formed several observing Sections for specialised topics in astronomy and remains structured in this way at present. The association lacked the funds to build their own observatory but were donated 477 astronomical instruments during the first 117 years of its formation.

Meetings were held monthly, primarily in London, but other branches such as the Northwestern Branch situated in Manchester were also established for those who wished to meet elsewhere. The BAA also extended to Australia with the establishment of the New South Wales Branch in 1895. There were also several officially organised global expeditions to view solar eclipses. The association also published its own Journal to showcase the observations and work of its members, which still remains in print today on a bi-monthly basis.

The BAA continues to support amateur astrologists in their aspirations, whilst fully embracing modern technology. It provides workshops, online tutorials and also an online Forum for members to communicate, learn and also share their experiences.