Thursday, January 01, 2009

Dawn of the Year of Astronomy

Current Picture of the Sun
The most recent SOHO spacecraft picture of the Sun
Image Credit: SOHO/ ESA/ NASA

As I mentioned in my last post, today is the first day of the International Year of Astronomy. The IYA is starting with an effort called "Dawn of the International Year of Astronomy." The point is for as many people as possible to look safely at the sun at noon today. At some places, astronomers will have special telescopes or other projectors to give all passers-by a safe view of the sun. (Simply looking with your eyes is dangerous and will permanently damage your eyes!) If it is cloudy where you live, or if you missed it, or if it was cloudy, you can look here at pictures taken by NASA's STEREO spacecraft, which are looking at the sun from two different angles.

The sun is the ultimate source of the energy most life on Earth needs to survive. Even when you are using coal or oil or gasoline to survive, the chemicals you are burning were made with the help of energy from sunlight by plants millions of years ago. Storms on the sun affect our life on Earth, causing electrical blackouts, communications failures, airplane route diversions, and the aurorae. (For more, see "space weather" websites such as

Though you may think of astronomy as a science that happens just at night, when we can see the stars, the sun is a crucial part of astronomy. The sun is the closest star to the Earth, and we can study and probe the sun in ways that we cannot probe other stars. We also think that our best chance of finding life in the Universe is by looking around sun-like stars, because we know that life can exist around such stars!

All astronomy therefore really starts with the sun. So it is only appropriate that the Year of Astronomy start with the sun.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:10 AM

    The International Year of Astronomy 2009 - Picture of the week is on the front page of the Nasa site at http://apod.nasa.goc, as it should be.

    But most space web sites (including Nsas's) are still stuck in the old 2-D HTML mode. I thought you might like know about a new 3-D way to view Nasa's Astronomy Picture of the Day at :

    This front-end tool lets you chose among 6 different modern looks and get a week's view at a time.

    Space always has spinoffs. You can apply it to your old boring Flickr pages, too, and email the link to your pictures to your friends or embed it on your own web pages. You can also use it inside your web profile in the popular game Second Life, at I hope to bring a some of their 16 million registered users into studying space ... I've been studying it for so long my head is full of it :-)