International Year of Astronomy Opening Ceremonies

Nothing works better than repetition. 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy! We’ve said it more than a few times before, and you’ll read a lot of coverage over the next year here on Universe Today. But last night we got to officially kick things off and celebrate the beginning of IYA 2009 events in the US.

Chorus to the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast intro
Chorus to the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast intro

The IYA 2009 opening ceremonies started out with a mini-concert by George Hrab. In addition to playing this gig, George provided the intro music for IYA 2009 365 Days of Astronomy podcast. The podcast has the chorus, but George has a longer version which he performed last night. George led a sing-along, performing the lyrics and the 700ish people in the audience helped out with the chorus. George is a great performer, and an amazing guy. Check out his podcast at

The highlight of the evening for me was a live linkup between the Los Angeles party and party goers at the Cincinnati Observatory. The live video worked out great, and there was a real feeling of camaraderie between the two locations. The big plan was for the Cincinnati folks to broadcast a live image of the Pleiades star cluster, but they had cloudy skies – a picture taken a few days ago was used instead.

There was a simultaneous ribbon cutting ceremony in Second Life, on the IYA 2009 island. Unfortunately, the island totally filled up, and it was difficult to actually interact with the people there. As we were singing along with George in the real world, the avatars in
Second Life were singing along too.

The final treat of the evening was a special advance viewing of the new PBS documentary, 400 Years of the Telescope, with a voiceover by Neil deGrasse Tyson. This documentary won’t air until April 12, 2009, sadly, so there’s no place to watch it until then. The documentary starts with the invention of the telescope and then follows the major technological improvements that bring us to the modern observatories we have today; and a peek a the supertelescopes coming down the road.

Ian O'Neill peers at the Moon.
Ian O'Neill peers at the Moon.

As we were walking out, Celestron had set up a constellation of telescopes to check out the night sky. Of course, Los Angeles doesn’t have the clearest skies. The Moon was up and we could just barely make out the stars in Orion. So people walking out from the ceremonies could get a chance to look at objects in the sky with their own eyes. In the middle of these expensive telescopes was the prototype for the Galileo Scope (more on this in another post), so we got to take it out for a test drive. I really want one. You know… for the kids.

If you want to watch it for yourself, the Astronomy Cast media team recorded the entire opening ceremonies – except for the PBS documentary. I have no idea how long it will still be available, but check it out here.