By Patricia Daukantas
Welcome to 2009! But this is not just any old year – it’s the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). And, even though it’s focused on the science of the heavens, the year commemorates an entirely optical event: the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first use of the telescope to study astronomical objects.
Opening ceremonies for IYA 2009 are set for the night of January 15-16 in Paris, France, with the United States kickoff happening on January 6 as part of the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in Long Beach, Calif. The U.S. kickoff will even be viewable over the Web.
One of the IYA “cornerstone projects” is the Galileoscope program to get millions of people looking up at the skies through telescopes. Astronomers are developing an easy-to-assemble, do-it-yourself telescope kit that would give people a modest but real viewing experience similar to Galileo’s own four centuries ago. (Remember, Galileo at first thought the rings of Saturn were a couple of satellites or nearby stars. Optical quality in 1609 was not what it is today.)
The IYA encompasses many more projects in 135 countries and in cyberspace on the Second Life virtual community. Visit the IYA’s home page to find out what’s happening near you.
During the year, OPN’s blog will feature updates on the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission (now scheduled for this May), and the pages of our magazine will carry other news related to astronomical optics. Have a great 2009!