By Patricia Daukantas
Did you buy a Galileoscope at the recent Frontiers in Optics (FiO) meeting? If you did – or if you have access to any small telescope – bring it outdoors over the next few nights!
The International Year of Astronomy (IYA), which already brought us “100 Hours of [Continuous] Astronomy” this past spring and other programs advocating dark-skies awareness and women in science, is organizing “Galilean Nights” events around the world October 22 through October 24.
The idea behind this IYA project is to give as many people as possible the chance to experience their own “Galileo moment” when they look at the sky through a telescope for the first time. Think about how amazing the moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus and the “planets” on either side of Saturn (he didn’t recognize them as rings) must have looked to someone who hadn’t known of their existence!
According to the International Astronomical Union, Galilean Nights events are happening in more than 70 countries. So, if you have that telescope handy, set it out in a public area and show off the heavens (Jupiter is particularly good for evening viewing). If the weather is cloudy in your terrestrial neighborhood, check out one of the participating Web sites for remote observing.
In other astrophysical news, the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (U.S.A.) have received $495,000 from the U.S. National Science Foundation to search for extrasolar planets using the frequency-comb technique. The astronomers want to extend the technique into the infrared for observations of M stars – small, red, cool, long-lived stars that might have had plenty of time to form planetary systems.
Frequency combs use ultrafast lasers to make a high-precision “ruler” spectrum against which astronomers can measure the tiny Doppler shift in a star’s spectrum caused by one or more orbiting planets. OPN managing editor Christina Folz described the technique in this April 2008 blog post.
Of course, frequency combs sprang from the research conducted by OSA Honorary Members John “Jan” Hall and Theodore Hänsch, who shared half of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work. Hall did his pioneering studies at JILA, a research institute jointly run by the University of Colorado and NIST. (The other half of the 2005 Nobel Prize went to OSA Honorary Member Roy Glauber.)