What does it mean for a citizen to be “literate” in astronomy? Those members of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) who are active in public outreach have practical experience of the kinds of astronomical knowledge commonly held by the general public. Until recently, however, there had not been a systematic evaluation and a clear definition of what astronomical literacy means. Now, the “Big Ideas in Astronomy: A Proposed Definition of Astronomy Literacy” booklet has been released with the aim of clarifying these ideas. It is intended for use by the astronomy education and outreach community, and within a process of community consultation. The booklet is the culmination of years of debate and discussion over the essential things that an astronomically literate person should know.
The astronomy literacy booklet presents eleven “Big Ideas,” each with seven to ten sub-ideas. These cover a range of different aspects of astronomy, including the historical, philosophical, sociological, theoretical and observational. They address a variety of topics from the Earth to the edge of the cosmos and back again.
“Big Ideas in Astronomy” is intended to be an evolving resource for the community to contribute to and draw from in working towards their goals. The booklet will benefit wider society by informing nations and states about what constitutes astronomical knowledge for their curricula. It also provides a framework for policy suggestions for governments, teacher training institutes and programs, and a set of guidelines for curriculum development and assessment tools. To this end, the IAU intends to invite the community, in the following months, to systematically review this document and consider whether it is an accurate representation of what experts consider astronomical literacy to be.
The project is led by Leiden Observatory, Leiden University (the Netherlands) and the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences (Portugal) with numerous collaborators and contributors from all around the world. It was produced within the framework of the IAU Commission C1 for Astronomy Education and Development, in particular, the Working Group on Literacy and Curriculum Development.
The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 13 500 professional astronomers from more than 100 countries worldwide. Its mission is to promote and safeguard astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.
The authors behind this work are: João Retrê (Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences, Portugal), Pedro Russo (Leiden University, the Netherlands), Hyunju Lee (Smithsonian Science Education Center, USA), Eduardo Penteado (Museu de Astronomia e Ciências Afins, Brazil), Saeed Salimpour (Deakin University, Australia), Michael Fitzgerald (Edith Cowan University, Australia), Jaya Ramchandani (The Story Of Foundation, India), Markus Pössel (Haus der Astronomie, Germany), Cecilia Scorza ( Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich & Haus der Astronomie, Germany), Lars Lindberg Christensen (European Southern Observatory), Erik Arends (Leiden University, the Netherlands), Stephen Pompea (NOAO, USA) and Wouter Schrier (Leiden University, the Netherlands)
Big Ideas in Astronomy: A Proposed Definition of Astronomy Literacy:
Astronomy & Society Group Coordinator
Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, the Netherlands
Science Communication Group Coordinator
Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences, Portugal
Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Press Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 320 06 761
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