Image Credit: IYA2009 / James White
Galilean Nights, one of the cornerstone projects of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy, takes place around the world this weekend! The goal of the weekend is to encourage those around us to look through a telescope at the same celestial objects that Galileo looked at 400 years ago, leading to a revolution in our understanding of the Universe and giving a new birth to the science of astronomy. This weekend, the moon and Jupiter are both well-placed to see in the early evening sky. And, if you are a morning person, Venus and Saturn are both low in the pre-dawn sky, rising about 1 to 1 1/2 hours before the sun. The Orionid meteors, bits of dust shed by Halley's Comet long ago, will also be an occasional visitor in the evening and morning skies.
Do you want to participate? You don't need any experience. Many planetariums and observatories will be having festivities; contact them to find the place and time. You can also find a nearby event from the Galilean Nights website: http://www.galileannights.org/find_event.html. If you own a telescope, why not pull it out on a local sidewalk and show off the moon and Jupiter this weekend to friends, family and neighbors?
If you don't have a telescope and can't find a nearby event, you can also go out and look with your eye. The moon will be obvious, and the planet Jupiter is the brightest object in the evening southern sky (if you live north of the equator). 400 years ago, Galileo alone knew that Jupiter had its own moons performing an intricate dance around it; now you, from the comfort of your own living room, can use a computer to see pictures of those moons taken by robots, pictures that give some hope that some other form of life may be swimming in oceans under dozens of miles of ice. And think about how we now can find worlds like Jupiter around stars hundreds of light years away, and how very soon we will know about Earth-like planets around those same distant stars.