It was founded in 1953 as the Junior Astronomical Society by experienced amateur astronomers including Patrick Moore, Ernest Noon and Eric Turner to encourage beginners to the science and to promote astronomy among the general public.
The term "Junior" was used to denote its role compared to the long-established society the British Astronomical Association. The name was changed in 1994 when it became evident that many believed, incorrectly, that the society was only for children rather than for beginners of all ages. In 2007 a new Young Stargazer category of membership was introduced to cater specifically for members aged under 16.
The society's first patron was Dr J G Porter whose BBC radio broadcasts about astronomy preceded television's long-running series The Sky At Night. Since his death, the role has been held by certain Astronomers Royal. The society's president, who serves a two-year term, is usually a senior professional astronomer.
Today the SPA still seeks to show that astronomy can be fun and to promote an interest in observing the sky among its members. The SPA has a number of observing sections whose work members can participate in. These cover observations of aurorae, comets, deep sky, the Moon, meteors, occultations, the planets, the Sun and variable stars.
The society publishes a quarterly magazine, Popular Astronomy, plus regular printed News Circulars which report on astronomical discoveries and developments and members' observations. There is also an email news service to which anyone can subscribe, the Electronic News Bulletins
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