The General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), meeting in Prague (Czech Republic), has elected the ESO Director General, Dr. Catherine Cesarsky, as President for a three-year period (2006-2009). The IAU is a body of distinguished professional astronomers, founded in 1919 to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. It now has almost 10000 individual members drawn from all continents. Dr. Cesarsky is the first woman to receive this high distinction. At the same General Assembly, Dr. Ian Corbett, ESO’s Deputy Director General, was elected Assistant General Secretary for 2006-2009, with the expectation of becoming General Secretary in 2009-2012.

Prof. Ron Ekers, the outgoing IAU President said: “The past few years have been a highly productive for astronomy, with many discoveries giving new insights into our Universe which have excited scientists and general public alike. Catherine Cesarsky is internationally honoured as a scientist, and I am delighted that she has agreed to serve the IAU as President. She has already given invaluable service to the IAU and I am confident that she will provide outstanding leadership as President”.

“It is a great honour and a pleasure for me to be President of the International Astronomical Union for the next three years, especially in view of the proposed International Year of Astronomy in 2009, in which the IAU will play a leading role as a catalyst and a coordinator. I am very much looking forward to working with my colleagues in the IAU to ensure that this is a great success,” said Catherine Cesarsky.

Dr. Cesarsky, ESO Director General since 1999, is known for her successful research activities in several central areas of modern astrophysics. She first worked on the theory of cosmic ray propagation and acceleration, and galactic gamma-ray emission. Later, she led the design and construction of the ISOCAM camera onboard the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) of the European Space Agency (ESA), and the ISOCAM Central Programme that studied the infrared emission from many different galactic and extragalactic sources. This has led to new and exciting results on star formation and galactic evolution, and in the identification of the sources providing the bulk of the energy in the Cosmic Infrared Background. Dr. Cesarsky is author of more than 250 scientific papers.

As ESO Director General, she has ensured that ESO is now accepted as the leading ground based observatory with its unique Very Large Telescope (VLT) and its associated interferometer (the VLTI). She has headed the European involvement in the international Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) project, due for completion in 2012. She is now leading the efforts by the European astronomy community to define the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), expected to be operational well before the end of the next decade.

Dr. Cesarsky received the COSPAR (Committee on Space Research) Space Science Award in 1998 and is member of several renowned national and international Science Academies.

She is married and has two children.

Dr. Ian Corbett came to ESO from the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) in 2001. He started his research in particle physics and moved into astronomy about 25 years ago, initially with involvement in the UK telescopes on Hawaii, La Palma, and Australia, and then with Gemini and the UK space science programme. He has represented the UK on a large number of international bodies concerned with scientific collaboration. With ESO he has been particularly concerned with ALMA.

At the same General Assembly, the IAU choose Dr. Robert Williams of the Space Telescope Science Institute as President-Elect and Prof. Karel A. van der Hucht of SRON, Netherlands, as General Secretary.


[1] The International Astronomical Union was founded in 1919. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and any surface features on them.

[2] Dr. Cesarsky was born in France. She received a degree in Physical Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires and graduated with a PhD in Astronomy in 1971 from Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass., USA). Afterwards she worked at the California Institute of Technology. In 1974, she moved to France, becoming a staff member of the Service d’Astrophysique (SAp), Direction des Sciences de la Matière (DSM), Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique. She then established her career in France. From 1985 to 1993, she was the Head of SAp. Later, as Director of DSM (1994 – 1999), she lead about 3000 scientists, engineers and technicians active within a broad spectrum of basic research programmes in physics, chemistry, astrophysics and earth sciences.

[3} Dr. Corbett comes from the United Kingdom, where he attended the Universities of Manchester and Oxford. He has worked at CERN, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and for UK research councils. He helped to establish the then new PPARC in 1994, becoming Director Programmes and Deputy Chief Executive with responsibility for the UK research programme in particle physics, astronomy, and space science. He moved to ESO in 2001, first as Head of Administration and then as Deputy Director General. He is active in furthering international collaboration in science, and has, for example, chaired several OECD working groups on future large facilities.