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April 1, 2009

This Year of Astronomy

Michael Kurtianyk

I remember the first time I looked at the moon through a telescope. I was a child at someone’s house and someone called me over to look through one. The full moon took up the entire field of vision. I could see the craters clearly, and to date I’d never seen anything like it. That moment stays with me today.


My wife bought me a telescope because she knew that I liked looking at the stars and pointing out constellations to our daughters. Our girls have just completed a unit on the solar system, specifically the planets and our moon. Did you know that Venus is the hottest planet? Something about the methane gas in its atmosphere causing a greenhouse effect on the planet’s surface. Don’t tell Al Gore this!


This year marks the International Year of Astronomy. It commemorates the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of a telescope to study the skies, and Kepler’s publication of Astronomia Nova.


The International Year of Astronomy (IYA) 2009 is a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and UNESCO to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day – and night-time – sky and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery.


Many events will be occurring throughout the world.


The Franklin in Philadelphia will be host to the world exclusive exhibition “Galileo, the Medici and The Age of Astronomy,” April 4 through September 7. The one-time only special exhibition features one of only two existing, original Galileo telescopes that will leave Italy for the first and only time.


On April 2, a sneak preview of the exhibit will be Webcast live around the world as the kick off for the global “100 Hours of Astronomy” event being organized for IYA2009. Watch and for more details.


As part of a world-wide celebration of this event, the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) in northwest Washington will be sponsoring a free-admission Open House on Saturday, April 4, from 3 to 10 P.M. During that time the Observatory’s telescopes will be open for inspection, scientists will explain the mission of USNO’s Master Clock, exhibits will display the Observatory’s history and present work, and local amateur astronomers will share views through their telescopes.


The open house will coincide with world-wide activities promoted by the IYA, specifically the “100 Hours of Astronomy” activities taking place around the globe from April 2 through April 5. The main goal of this effort is to give as many people as possible the opportunity to look through a good-quality astronomical telescope. To this end, USNO’s open house should provide many opportunities for patrons to do so.


In addition to safe observation of the sun during the afternoon, the evening hours will feature a multitude of amateur telescopes that will be trained on the moon, Saturn, plus a host of other interesting celestial sights.


The 100 Hours of Astronomy Cornerstone Project is a worldwide event consisting of a wide range of public outreach activities, live science center, research observatory webcasts and sidewalk astronomy events. One of the project’s key goals is to have as many people as possible look through a telescope as Galileo did for the first time 400 years ago. It will take place from April 2-5 as the moon goes from first quarter to gibbous, good phases for early evening observing. Saturn will be the other highlight of early evening observing events.


The closest I could find to Frederick that has registered an event is to join members of Howard Astronomical League at Howard County's GreenFest to observe the sun through telescopes fitted with H-A filters. This will occur at Howard Community College in Columbia on April 4.


There are also a number of podcasts worth checking out: the main one I listen to is “The 365 Days of Astronomy.” This daily podcast features new topics submitted by citizens and scientists alike. It is the official podcast of the IYA 2009. You can also find numerous lectures in both audio and video podcast form.


What will I be doing? Praying for clear skies at night. Looking through my telescope. Going to a neighbor’s house where six or seven telescopes will be set up for night viewing. I want to show my daughters what stargazing is all about, and applying what they learned in school to real life.


I hope that you and your family will do something to commemorate this event.


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