The International Astronomical Union will be coordinating the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. This initiative is an opportunity for the citizens of Earth to gain a deeper insight into astronomy’s role in enriching all human cultures. Moreover, it will serve as a platform for informing the public about the latest astronomy discoveries while emphasizing the essential role of astronomy in science education.
In 1609, Galileo Galilei first turned one of his telescopes to the night sky and made astounding discoveries that changed mankind’s conception of the world forever: mountains and craters on the Moon, a plethora of stars invisible to the naked eye and moons around Jupiter. Astronomical observatories around the world promise to reveal how planets and stars are formed, how galaxies assemble and evolve, and what the structure and shape of our Universe actually are. Today, humans are in the middle of a new age of discovery, one as profound as the one Galileo ushered in when he turned his telescope on those glorious star-filled nights 400 years ago.
Astronomy, the oldest science in history, has played an important role in most, if not all, cultures over the ages. Thanks to advanced telescopes and space probes, astronomy continues to be a trailblazer, enhancing our knowledge by delivering breathtaking discoveries almost on a weekly basis. The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) will be a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture, stimulating worldwide interest not only in astronomy, but in science in general, with a particular slant towards young people. The IYA2009 is deemed to mark the monumental leap forward that followed Galileo’s first use of the telescope for astronomical observations, and portray astronomy as a peaceful global scientific endeavour that unites astronomers in an international, multicultural family of scientists working together to find answers to some of the most fundamental questions that humankind has ever asked.
The vast majority of IYA2009 activities will span local, regional and national levels. Several countries have already formed National Nodes to work on the planning and preparation of activities for 2009. These committees are collaborations between professional and amateur astronomers, science centres and science communicators. Individual countries will be undertaking their own initiatives as well as assessing their own national needs, while the IAU will be acting as the event’s coordinator and catalyst on a global scale. The IAU plans to liaise with, and involve, as many as possible of the ongoing outreach and education efforts throughout the world, including those organized by amateur astronomers.
Despite the IYA2009 being still in its early planning stages, a number of very exciting ideas have already been put forward. One of the core ideas is to bring Astronomy closer to all citizens of planet Earth by giving them the opportunity to interact with amateur and professional astronomers, as well as to participate in “sidewalk astronomy” events in planetariums and public observatories where several different activities, such as looking through a telescope and observing our Universe, will be held.
As important an objective is to ensure that less well-established organizations from the developing world can become involved with larger organizations and deliver their contributions, linked via a huge global network. Aiming at awakening the public awareness of astronomy and science in the developing countries, the IYA will, based on a resolution adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in 2005, be launching the Universe Awareness (UNAWE) program in 2009. Such a scheme has been designed to broaden the minds of economically disadvantaged young children across the globe, enhance their understanding of the world and demonstrate the power of rational thought.
The IYA2009 is, first and foremost, an activity for the citizens of Planet Earth, which will convey the excitement of personal discovery, the pleasure of sharing fundamental knowledge about the Universe and our place in it and ultimately, the value of the scientific culture.
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Notes for editors
The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together almost 10,000 distinguished astronomers from all nations of the world. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and any surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world’s largest professional body for astronomers. The IAU General Assembly is held every three years and is one of the largest and most diverse meetings on the astronomical community’s calendar.
A brochure describing the IYA2009 is available on the IAU website on this link.
European Southern Observatory, Garching, Germany
Karel A. van der Hucht
IAU General Secretary
SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Utrecht, the Netherlands
PIO and 2009 International Year of Astronomy contact
Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Press Officer
ESA/Hubble, Garching, Germany