In 1609, Galileo Galilei looked at the heavens through a telescope for the first time, and things on Earth haven’t been the same since. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of this advent of scientific discovery and thought, people and organizations from around the globe are coordinating a world-wide, year-long program called the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). Some of the goals of IYA are to stimulate worldwide interest in astronomy and science, especially among young people, to provide as many people as possible with an “astronomy experience,” and to support science education in both formal and informal settings. Currently, 118 countries are going to be part of IYA. The program has the support of the United Nations, the International Astronomical Union, the US’s National Science Foundation and all the space agencies around the world. Recently, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution supporting IYA. Right now IYA is in the planning and coordination stage. But for IYA to be a success, says Doug Isbell, one of the co-chairs for the US IYA program, it’s going to take a coordinated effort from volunteers around the world who want to share their love of space and astronomy. So, it’s time to start thinking about what YOU are going to do for IYA. And even though we’ve posted the IYA trailer on UT before, here it is again to help get you in the mood:
So, what’s in it for you? Plenty. There are a myriad of ways for everyone to get involved in IYA, whether its just attending a star party, or helping to coordinate a local event, or making a financial contribution.
One of the goals of IYA is to provide as many people as possible with the experience of looking through a telescope. Currently, IYA is designing a telescope kit, called the Galileoscope, to distribute to schools and science centers around the world. “We have a goal of approximately 1 million Galileoscopes world wide” said Isbell. “We want everyone to have a high quality, aha! experience. From networking and experience, we know that experience is something like being able to see Saturn’s rings. That drives you to a 40 or 45 power telescope, which is more ambitious than we originally thought.” The telescope kit will come with a educational curriculum, and is designed to be to be a science experience in either a classroom or an informal science center.
IYA would like to offer these scopes free to people around the world, and is looking for funding. “This is a big funding challenge,” said Isbell. “We’re getting close to the design, but we’re still looking for the chunk of money that will get us to the production phase.”
The overall US goal, said Isbell, is to offer an engaging astronomy experience to every person in the country in some fashion, whether it is in person or virtual, and to build partnerships for the future in educational outreach.
“Within the US, we have plans to foster star parties around the country, in coordination with local astronomy groups,” said Isbell. “There will be national and international efforts to observe particular objects, like Jupiter that will be in a good alignment in August of 2009. Also, we’re promoting the dark skies concept of preserving the night sky for observers, and we’re trying to foster a more formal research project to observe the variable binary star Epsilon Aurigae. It’s going through an eclipse that comes around every few decades, and this is a chance for the more dedicated observers and teacher/student researchers to study this star.”
One of the exciting events happening in conjunction with IYA is the production of a PBS special called “400 Years of the Telescope,” produced by Interstellar Studios, headed by Kris Koenig. Not only will there be a television special, but planetarium shows and interactive educational activities are being coordinated for as well for IYA. The 400 Years of the Telescope website has a newsletter available, which is also where you can find info on the US IYA effort. Subscribe to the newsletter here. UT will provide more information on “400 Years of the Telescope” as the air date gets closer.
Check out IYA’s website, which provides a centralized outlet for people to publicize and learn about events, activities and materials available online. Here’s the US IYA site. See how you can get involved. You can also find IYA on several of the social networking sites, like MySpace, and Facebook.
Universe Today will provide updated information about IYA, as well as details about the different facets of IYA in upcoming articles.