Astronomy and Astrophysics: A European Journal

The history of the creation of Astronomy and Astrophysics

S.R. Pottasch

Kapteyn Astronomical Institute

P.O. Box 800, 9700 AV Groningen,

The Netherlands

History began with the meeting of 8 April 1968 at the Leiden Observatory. Everything that happened before that date can be considered as pre-history. It is essential to understand the pre-history to make sense of the history, but it is not easy to describe. This is because it consists of unrecorded discussions of individuals in small groups, feelings concerning whether ones papers are being read, etc. And all this must be put in the context of a rapidly expanding European astronomical community with an outdated publication structure.

In the early 1960's European publication was splintered. In the best cases each country had its own publication(s); this was sometimes also true of smaller countries. In addition most observatories had their own publications, which were sometimes simply reprinted articles that appeared elsewhere, but sometimes were the only source of original work. This system worked more or less when there was a limited number of astronomers; in that case it was possible for authors to know who was working in their particular field, and to send these persons reprints. As the number of astronomers increased, this system began to break down. It is easy to imagine that a substantial number of astronomers blamed the publishing situation for the fact that their work was not having the impact that they expected.

The following journals were active in western Europe at this time (with the date of founding in parenthesis).

  • Annales d'Astrophysique (Ann.d Ap)(1938) published in French with occasional English
  • Bulletin Astronomique (1884) published in French
  • Bulletin of the Astronomical Institutes of the Netherlands (1921) published in English (BAN)
  • Journal des Observateurs (1915) published in French
  • Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MN) (1895) published in English
  • Zeitschrift fur Astrophysik(ZfAp) (1930) published in German with some English

In addition other journals existed in Italy, East Germany, Scandinavia, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The number of subscriptions to these journals was roughly 300 to 450 except for Monthly Notices which was higher. This probably was due to the large number of amateurs who subscribed and not to a substantially larger number of astronomers. The Astrophysical Journal, on the other hand, did have a substantially larger number of astronomer subscribers. While many of these subscriptions were American, personal subscriptions to the ApJ by European astronomers was much more common than personal subscriptions to European journals by Americans.