It's December, meaning that this is the last month of the year-long celebration of astronomy, the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009). Have you participated yet? Although the year may be winding down and many of us are so busy that the last thing we need is more stuff to do, there's no need to panic. Many of the official IYA2009 activities will continue into 2010 and beyond, and of course the science itself will continue to push our bounds of knowledge about the Universe.
I'll get to a list of some of the activities you can still participate in shortly. First, just a little background about the IYA2009, in case you were unaware or had forgotten. The IYA2009 is an effort sponsored by the United Nations, the International Council on Science, and the International Astronomical Union. International Years are not new; for decades the UN has sponsored scientific projects intended to bring scientists from around the world together to study a particular branch of science. The IYA2009 is slightly different; rather than focusing scientists on a specific problem, the IYA2009 is designed to bring the public into the science of astronomy. The effort is truly international, with, at last count, 148 nations participating in the IYA2009 in some way, shape, or form.
This year was chosen because it marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first observations with a telescope and the 400th anniversary of Johannes Kepler's publication of Astronomia Nova, which contain Kepler's first two laws of planetary motions. It is hard to overstate the importance of these two events, which were crucial parts of the birth of modern astronomical science.
The main goal of the IYA2009 is to get every human on the globe to think about astronomy or our place in the Universe at least once this year. Spend a few minutes on the next clear night looking at the stars or pondering the wonders of nature, and you've helped fulfill that goal! You can help further by talking to your family and friends about astronomy, or just showing them the stars.
But there is so much more you can do, and you don't have to do it all this month. The following activities will be continued well into the future, and you can help with all of them!
- 365 Days of Astronomy -- This daily podcast gives listeners a 5-10 minute daily dose of astronomy on a wide range of topics, from exciting new research to historical astronomy to personal anecdotes by professional and citizen astronomers. This podcast was just renewed for another year, and it needs support in the form of listeners, donations ($30/day will get your name in front of 5-10 thousand listeners!), and contributed podcasts. You can follow 365 Days of Astronomy from their website, through iTunes, and even on Twitter.
- Citizen Sky -- The Citizen Sky project is an opportunity for everyone to contribute to a scientific research project. The goal is to understand the mysterious star epsilon Aurigae, a star you can see with your plain eye on any clear winter night. The star fades greatly for about two years every 27 years, and astronomers aren't sure why. This year, the star began fading again right on cue, and your observations over the next year or more can help us professional astronomers!
- Galileoscopes -- The Galileoscope is a small, inexpensive telescope similar in design (but far better quality!) than the telescope Galileo used for his groundbreaking observations of the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus (among other things) in 1609. You can buy your own for $20 plus shipping (be patient, they take a while to ship because orders are filled by volunteers and sometimes you'll have to wait on the manufacturer), or you can donate telescopes to classrooms around the world for $15.
The end of the IYA2009 is just the beginning of many of the programs. Astronomers are seeking to find the best uses for new technology and media, as well as expand astronomy within developing countries. We celebrate our past and look to the future. And, like Janus, after December 31 we will be looking both backwards and ahead, celebrating the end of a successful program and the start of a daunting new task of building on that success.
It's not too late! Come join us in the fun!