In the summer of 1609, Galileo turned his telescope to the night sky and forever changed our view of the universe and ourselves, scientifically proving the Copernican theory of a sun-centered solar system.
Amateur and professional astronomers in 137 countries are now celebrating the International Year of Astronomy to commemorate Galileo's discoveries, Johannes Kepler's publication of Astronomia Nova, also in 1609, and other notable achievements in astronomy.
While celebrating 400 years of modern astronomy, IYA organizers hope to involve millions of people in discovering the night sky and raise public awareness of the environmental and scientific problems caused by light pollution.
Douglas Isbell, the IYA's United States representative, was at Biosphere 2 on Feb. 21 to help open an IYA exhibit and to preview some of the events and activities planned for this astronomy year. Biosphere 2 is the University of Arizona's glass-enclosed living laboratory near Oracle.
"Our goal in the U.S. is to reach every person with some kind of activity — whether it's in person or online," Isbell said.
Two of those outreach efforts already have been displayed in Tucson at Biosphere 2 and the Tucson International Airport. The airport exhibit included 50 astronomical photos that are traveling to various sites around the country. To see these images online, go to www.fromearthtotheuniverse.org
Biosphere 2 is one of several institutions NASA has selected to display a large image of spiral galaxy Messier 101. The image combines Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory data to create the galaxy image humans would see if they could simultaneously look in the visible light, X-ray and infrared spectra.
The exhibit also includes other astronomical images and a model of the Spitzer telescope.
Isbell outlined many IYA public and web-based activities for 2009, including:
• The 365 Days of Astronomy podcast. These daily podcasts include topics such as tips for selecting your first telescope, "Edgar Allen Poe and the Riddle of Darkness at Night," "Palomar Sky Surveys on Your Desktop" and other topics. (www.planetary.org/programs/projects/iya/365days.html)
• The Today in Astronomy blog, a daily blog focusing on the history of astronomy. (http://todayinastronomy.blogspot.com)
• Astronomy Discovery Guides. These guides feature a different topic each month and include hands-on activities such as spotting craters on the moon and making a pocket model of the solar system. (http://www.astrosociety.org/iya/guides.html)
• The Galileoscope. IYA has produced a $15 telescope kit that can be assembled in about 15 minutes. "This is actually better than Galileo's telescope as far as what you can see with it and the clarity of the view," Isbell said. Amateur observers can use the telescope to see the same things Galileo studied, such as Jupiter's moons, the phases of Venus and the mountains of the moon, he added. A tripod is not included in the kit, but the telescope will attach to nearly all camera tripods. (www.galileoscope.org)
For details on other IYA activities and to find out how to get involved, visit www.astronomy2009.us