Celebrate the International Year of Astronomy

By Smith, Denise | The Science Teacher, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Celebrate the International Year of Astronomy


Smith, Denise, The Science Teacher


In 1609, Galileo Galilei turned his telescope to the night sky and began a series of observations of the cosmos. These observations, together with the work of Johannes Kepler and other scientists of the time, revolutionized our understanding of the universe and the process by which we do science. The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2009 the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in recognition of the 400th anniversary of Galileo's historic achievements.

Explore the universe

January 2009 marks the beginning of the IYA's global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture. This year, national nodes have been formed in each country to prepare activities--over 120 countries are expected to participate.

In the United States, scientists, educators, amateur astronomers, communication professionals, and a wide range of volunteers are working together to offer an engaging astronomy experience to every person in the country, nurture existing partnerships, and build new connections to sustain public interest in astronomy during the IYA and beyond. Activities are aimed at empowering learners of all ages and backgrounds to discover the universe for themselves. Themes for U.S. activities include

* Arts and Entertainment;

* Research Experiences for Students, Teachers, and Citizen Scientists;

* The Universe for Classrooms and Families;

* Cultural Astronomy;

* Dark Skies are a Universal Resource;

* Looking Through a Telescope;

* New Media: Sharing the Universe Through New Technology;

* Science Centers, Observatory Visitor Centers, and Planetaria; and

* Telescope Kits and Optics.

The IYA's major supporters include the American Astronomical Society, Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), Astronomical League, American Association of Variable Star Observers, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

By visiting the U.S. IYA website (see "On the web"), students and teachers can explore different ways to look through a telescope, strengthen key science skills, and participate in community-based events. New information and resources will be added throughout the year, including updates on the Galileoscope educational telescope kit, the Galileo Teacher Training Program, In the Footsteps of Galileo education activities, and the From Earth to the Universe image exhibition. The following opportunities are just a few of the NSF- and NASA-sponsored programs and curriculum support resources available. Through these opportunities and more, teachers and students can make personal observations of the universe during the IYA.

GLOBE at Night

During the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) at Night campaign--from March 16-28, 2009 (see "On the web")--teachers, students, and their families can take part in the U.S. IYA's Dark Skies are a Universal Resource activities. Participants will find the constellation Orion in the sky, match their view to charts provided by the GLOBE at Night program, and compare their results to observations from around the world. Through these activities, they will explore how excess artificial lighting impacts our ability to learn from the night sky, as well as ecology, safety, and energy conservation. GLOBE is a joint venture of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Colorado State University, NASA, NSF, and the U.S. Department of State.

Recording and reporting what can be seen in the night sky is one way to become a citizen scientist during the IYA. Participants will be part of a central activity for the global cornerstone project, Dark Skies Awareness, which is led by staff from the NOAO and several national and international partners.

400 Years of the Telescope

To commemorate Galileo's first celestial observations, Interstellar Studios, Southern Oregon Public Television, the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, the Buhl Planetarium, and the ASP are producing a public television broadcast, a planetarium program, and a series of telescopic experiences and community events. …

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