ann20034 — Announcement

Luboš Perek (1919–2020)
2 October 2020
Luboš Perek (26 July 1919–17 September 2020)

It is with much sadness that we announce the passing of the great Czech astronomer Luboš Perek, who served as IAU General Secretary from 1967 to 1970.

Born just two days before the founding of the International Astronomical Union in 1919, Luboš Perek’s long career in astronomy was to be significantly influenced by the turbulent political times through which he lived. Unable to study during the occupation of Czechoslovakia during the Second World War, Perek went to Masaryk University in Brno in 1946, having been invited by Josef M. Mohr to work as his assistant. Studying in the post-war period presented significant challenges; in a 2016 interview, Perek described the IAU as being a door-opener to the international community at the time, and especially important for those behind the Iron Curtain. “For me, the IAU meant the first meeting with ‘real astronomers’,” he said.

He met astronomers Jan H. Oort and Adrian Blaauw on a study visit to Leiden Observatory in the 1950s, and it was this trip that inspired his plans for a 60-cm telescope, which was subsequently built at Brno Observatory on Kraví hora. Soon after, he worked with Miroslav Plavec and others to build the 2-m telescope at the Astronomical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in Ondřejov, which was named after him and which remains the largest astronomical instrument in the Czech Republic today. Perek’s astronomical interests included the distribution of matter in the Milky Way, stellar orbits in the galaxy’s gravitational potential, and planetary nebulae; he is well known for his much-cited Catalogue of Galactic Planetary Nebulae, which he co-wrote with fellow astronomer Luboš Kohoutek. On discovering a new asteroid in 1979, Kohoutek named it 2900 Luboš Perek after his colleague.

On the recommendation of Bohumil Šternberk, who was an IAU Vice-President at the time, Perek began working as Assistant General Secretary of the International Astronomical Union from 1964, and then as General Secretary in 1967. In this role, he was the main organiser of the XIII General Assembly, which took place in Prague at the very beginning of the Prague Spring. Many fellow astronomers who attended still have fond memories of the optimistic atmosphere which was the backdrop of the meeting. 

From 1968 to 1975, Perek served as Director of the Astronomical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. During this time, he acted against the wishes of the Czechoslovak government by allowing the handing over of the Czechoslovak flag to Eugen Cernan, an American astronaut of Czechoslovak origin, for the Apollo 17 mission to the Moon — an action for which he was later honoured by the Czech Astronomical Society. Today, this flag stands in the gallery of the Perek Telescope in Ondřejov. 

In 1975 he was appointed Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), an appointment which brought him to New York and led him to work on the highly important topic of space debris. Returning to Czechoslovakia in 1980, Perek faced further political difficulties which interfered with his scientific activities, but he continued to follow the International Astronautical Federation, of which he later became President, and also chaired IAU Commission 33 (Structure and Dynamics of the Galactic System). After the Velvet Revolution, he served as chairman of the Czech Astronomical Society and co-founded the European Astronomical Society.

Perek was recognised for his extraordinary contributions to astronomy with several awards, including the Janssen Medal of the French Astronomical Society, the Nušl Medal of ČAS, and the Medal of the Learned Society of the Czech Republic. Just last year he was awarded a silver medal from the President of the Senate of the Czech Republic.

Perek participated enthusiastically in the IAU’s centenary celebrations last year, which, fittingly, also marked his own 100th birthday. The current IAU President, Professor Ewine van Dishoeck, was able to congratulate him on that occasion.

More information

The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together almost 12 000 active professional astronomers from more than 100 countries worldwide. Its mission is to promote and safeguard astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.


Jan Palous
NCA President of the Czech Republic

Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Press Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 320 06 761
Cell: +49 173 38 72 621

About the Announcement



Luboš Perek (1919–2020)