The International Astronomy Olympiad (IAO) is a science-education program which has been held yearly since 1996. This mainly includes an intellectual competition between the participants which is aimed to develop the creativity, imagination and the interest towards astronomy and science.

The Olympiad is carried out in the spirit of friendship, tolerance, where the competition is a stimulus for showing the participants’ capabilities but contacts, exchange of ideas and collaboration between students, teachers, and scientists from various countries have a primary importance. It should be emphasized that the competition at the International Astronomy Olympiad is not the most important part of the programme, in other words, the competition with its points, places, and Diploma is only a tool but not the purpose of the Olympiad, and the Olympiad is not “selection of the best students” and not “examinations”.

Every year the IAO is organized by one of the Authorized National Representative (Astronomical) Organizations (ANRAO) of an Olympiad-Member State during the first two months of the astronomical autumn (Between the 22nd of September and 22nd of November).

ANRAO of every participating country may send five students, who are the winners of the respective national olympiads or easy competitions: three students for the group Alpha (14-15 years old) and two students to the group Beta (16-18 years old). They are to be accompanied by two team leaders as representatives of each country.

Countries which did not register their ANRAO may send up to three students: two students for the group Alpha (14-15 years old) and one student to the group Beta (16-18 years old). They are also to be accompanied by two team leaders.

Observers may be at the Olympiad as well.

The Olympiad is intended for students of the adolescent age when the interest in astronomy is being formed most actively. Then preparation for participation is still a useful and purposeful education not yet having turned training into an end in itself. This is a principal idea of the Olympiad.

A considerable part of the knowledge which is necessary for participation in the Olympiad goes beyond the frames of the school curriculum in most of the countries in the world. Preparation for the Olympiad needs extra-curricular activities of various types, whose promoting is one of the Olympiad’s aims.

The total amount of knowledge is comparatively not too large and acquiring it is completely within the reach of the students of the above-mentioned age. It is also the age for which the spirit of the Olympiad as an entertaining competition is most appropriate. Involving students of the senior classes would lead to enlarging and complicating the necessary material, which would be senseless. For such students, it already turns into a kind of sport and is significantly less useful from an educational point of view. For students, 17-20 years old more serious events are preferable to conferences and competitions of research projects.

The International Olympiad is also a meeting of teachers and scientists, where an exchange of ideas takes place, methods for refining the astronomical education are discussed and international collaboration in this field is established.