Of all the sections of the International Astronomical Union the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams is undoubtedly the one that most concerns amateur astronomers. Just about anybody in the world with at least some familiarity with the sky has the potential to discover (or to think he or she has discovered) a comet or nova. If the object is real and sufficiently bright, it is very probably already known. Somebody has to be the first discoverer of every comet or nova, however, and soon after the IAU was established in 1919 it set up the Central Bureau to receive and to disseminate to the astronomical community news of such discoveries. Discoveries of supernovae in other galaxies, natural satellites of the planets, erupting x-ray sources and transient features on the planets are also dealt with by the Central Bureau, which since 1965 has operated at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Central Bureau handles unusual minor planets in the vicinity of the earth, although the thousand or more ordinary minor planets routinely discovered each year (and with which amateurs are being increasingly involved) are more appropriately the province of the Minor Planet Center, set up by the IAU in 1947 and since 1978 also operated at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. About one-quarter of the subscribers to the various services of the Central Bureau and/or the Minor Planet Center are individual amateur astronomers or organizations of amateurs.
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