MISTs of Time

The first MIST meeting was held in London on 20 August 1970, so we are well into our fifth decade! Henry Rishbeth, who with Peter Kendall was one of the originators of MIST, wrote an authoritative account of the origins and history of MIST to mark the 25th anniversary:

The idea of UK 'Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial Meetings' originated one evening in October 1969, while driving out from Sheffield to Peter Kendall's home in the Pennines. Peter and I were concerned at the lack of regular contact between UK groups working in the field of solar-terrestrial physics. It seemed that one had to go to international conferences to find out what neighbouring groups were doing! The success of the "Sydney Chapman Meeting" at Sheffield in July 1968, at which the great man himself was present, showed us that scope existed for regular meetings in the UK. We considered setting up a new society but, in conversations with Professor Vincent Ferraro, Mr Jack Ratcliffe and others, it became obvious that we should work through an existing learned society. Through the good offices of Vincent Ferraro, the Royal Astronomical Society took us under its wing. Peter thought up the MIST acronym, though its impact in other languages was not considered.


The first MIST Meeting took place in the Scientific Societies' Lecture Theatre, London, on 20 November 1970, with the theme Geomagnetic Storm Effects. The attendance of 200 was overwhelming, and has never been equalled at subsequent meetings. Largely, the audience consisted of astronomers who just came to see what we were up to. Quickly settling down to a more realistic size, MIST meetings were held semiannually at Burlington House, generously supported by the RAS. For many years, MIST was co-sponsored by the Institute of Physics, who provided some publicity. In the early days each MIST meeting had a definite theme. The May meetings suffered from poor attendance, and it was David Orr who solved this problem by inviting us to York in April 1973, for a residential meeting with a wide-ranging programme. This out-of-town meeting was popular, and was followed in 1974 onwards by 'Spring MISTs' at Leicester, Exeter, Aberystwyth ... the list is long, and MIST owes much to the local organizers of the spring meetings. Exceptionally, the Autumn 1974 meeting was held at Queen Mary College; it was planned to be the 'Ferraro Retirement Meeting' but sadly became the 'Ferraro Memorial Meeting'.


From the start, MIST meetings have been reported in the QJRAS and the practice continues, thanks to the work of Mike Laird, Anne Hadjiry, and many others. Maintaining the MIST mailing list is no light task; it was done first at the RAS, then at Slough, then for many years by Roy Moffett at Sheffield, and currently by Andy Smith and Margaret Riley at BAS.


With the advent of the 'UK Geophysical Assembly', MIST joined UKGA at Edinburgh in 1977, setting a pattern in which MIST sometimes joined with UKGA or with the RAS Out-of-Town meeting, at other times keeping to the traditional 'stand-alone' MIST meeting organized by a local STP group. This mix-and-match plan led to the holding of two successive meetings in Southampton: a 'stand-alone meeting' in 1978 followed by UKGA in 1979, in both cases benefiting from competent organization by the late Pam Rothwell. In 1992 MIST 'went international', with special sessions at the EGS meeting at Edinburgh. The autumn one-day meetings in London have continued successfully at Burlington House till the present day. Sometimes MIST takes part in a regular RAS Geophysical meeting; these so-called 'G/MIST Meetings' have helped to boost the total to 60 meetings in 26 years. MIST has become a forum for all UK STP scientists, sometimes welcoming visitors from overseas, a place for community discussions of wider issues, and above all the place for research students and new postdocs to present their science.


Henry Rishbeth

8 March 1996

[A version of this article has been published in Astronomy & Geophysics (1997) 38(2), 20-22.]