International Year Of Astronomy 2009 Is The Perfect Chance To Learn Astronomy
    By News Staff | January 3rd 2009 12:00 AM | 6 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) has been launched by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) under the theme, “The Universe, yours to discover”. Thousands of IYA2009 events are described on the national websites, as well as on, and a few of the global projects are listed here.

    The official IYA2009 Opening Ceremony will take place in Paris on 15 and 16 January 2009, and the press is invited to attend. It will feature keynote speakers, including Nobel Laureates, and live video feeds to scientists working in remote locations. Many nations are holding their own Opening Ceremonies in January and February, showing their dedication to the Year. But events will begin before then. Don’t be surprised to see telescopes on the streets on New Year’s Day. The IYA2009 Solar Physics Group have been busy planning a grand worldwide campaign, with over 30 countries involved at more than 150 venues, which will see amateur stargazers set up their telescopes on pavements as well as in science centres, letting passers-by observe the Sun using special safety equipment.

    The Cosmic Diary is an example of a global activity occurring during 2009, with the release of its official website on New Year’s Day. The project concerns the daily lives of full-time astronomers. More than 50 bloggers, professionals from over 35 countries and employed by organisations such as ESO, NASA, ESA and JAXA have already begun producing content, writing about their lives, the work they conduct and the challenges they face. The public can see what being an astronomer is really like, and how ground-breaking research is conducted. Another project, 365 Days of Astronomy, will publish one podcast per day over the entire year. The episodes will be written, recorded and produced by people around the world.

    100 Hours of Astronomy, another IYA2009 Cornerstone Project, is a worldwide event taking place from 2–5 April 2009, with a wide range of public outreach activities including live webcasts, observing events and more. One of the key goals of 100 Hours of Astronomy is to have as many people as possible look through a telescope, just as Galileo did for the first time 400 years ago. 

    The From Earth to the Universe (FETTU) Cornerstone Project is an exhibition arranged by IYA2009 that will bring large-scale astronomical images to a wide public audience in non-traditional venues such as public parks and gardens, art museums, shopping malls and metro stations. Over 30 countries around the world are currently in the development phase of FETTU projects, many with multiple locations. Some 15 countries plan to begin FETTU exhibitions within the first month of 2009, ranging in size from 25 to over 100 images on display. FETTU will be introduced to the global community at the Opening Ceremony at UNESCO headquarters in January 2009.
    The World at Night is an IYA2009 Special Project that is producing and bringing to the public a collection of stunning photographs and time-lapse videos of the world’s landmarks with the sky in the background. The World at Night is preparing more than 30 exhibitions and educational events around the world.

    One of IYA2009’s aims is to raise awareness of light pollution, and how the beauty of the night sky is progressively being drowned out, particularly over urban areas. The project Dark Skies Awareness is tackling these issues head-on in a practical, inclusive manner. One way in which it is doing this is by holding star-counting events, where the public are encouraged to see how many stars in a particular area of the sky are actually visible from their location. When compared with data from truly dark sites, the results are often very surprising! The “How Many Stars” event will run from January 2009.

    A list of event highlights is available on the official IYA2009 website, From there it is also possible to contact the National Nodes, responsible for organising local events in the many participating countries. 

    During 2009, the sky will provide some exciting events, including the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century, occurring on 22 July 2009 and lasting 6 minutes 39 seconds over a narrow corridor through countries including India, Bangladesh and China. A strong shower of Leonid meteors is also expected in mid-November 2009, with forecasters predicting upwards of an incredible 500 shooting stars per hour. In mid-October in the northern hemisphere, Jupiter will be placed at dusk, a perfect time to show public the giant planet and its moons. These are an impressive sight through even a small amateur telescope. 

    IYA2009 seeks to involve the public at large in its activities, and to this end amateur astronomers have been called upon to help organise and run events. Known for their enthusiasm, this army of helpers is growing every day, preparing to promote astronomy in a stunning variety of ways. In fact, so many thousands of people across the globe are already involved, they have formed the world’s largest ever astronomy network. 

    Catherine Cesarsky, IAU President, says: “135 countries have committed themselves to the Year, all pulling together toward the common aim of making astronomy accessible to the public. IYA2009 will reinforce the links between science education and science careers, stimulating a long-term increase in student enrolment in the fields of science and technology and an appreciation for lifelong learning.”
    With such a range of activities planned, now is the ideal time to learn more about the cosmos and our place within it. The International Year of Astronomy 2009 promises to make the Universe yours to discover, beginning on 1 January 2009.


    The intimate relation between Astronomy and Physics is evident in Astrophysics. So while starting with the IYA programmes in 2009, it is necessary to look at programmes of IYP 2005. In particular, my comment (as an Associate of the Committee on Space Research) on the IYP events in a European bulletin (April 2006) is important because it is based on the reflection of Prof. Frank Wilczek (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 2004) on the college physics. But, in brief, I can say that in such world-wide programmes organizers tend to invite scientists to describe fore-front research and some useful information for those on the point of graduation. But it remains to be found out if school children are properly motivated or otherwise, by lectures of leaders. I am mainly concerned with school children because they have to make proper choice, after SSC. In connection with this I have to refer to a comment of Akshay Deshmukh - who suggested to scrape of geometry "Sakaal Times, Cityscape, 2, 26-11-2008" because it is a representation of many students. In fact, for many years I am using very simple models to relate why to learn school mathematics and how to use it in learning basic concepts of Astronomy. Let me conclude this letter with a concrete example. I have seen many SSC students, including participants of the International Astronomical Olympiads, reading advanced books of astrophysics, discussing pulsars etc. But these students fail to explain that Mercy and Venus are inner planets and Mercury is the first. Of course, this is not the fault of students but, I believe, of teachers. Realizing this fact, I am using a very simple model - costing just Rs 20 - for many years, which effectively couples the circle-tangent chapter of school geometry with the observations of Mercury and Venus. Such models are necessary for motivating SSC students, along with other traditional activities like telescope making.

    That sounds very interesting.  However:

    (1) What is SSC?

    (2) What does your model look like?  Perhaps you should join Scientific Blogging  so you can upload a picture for us all to see.
    I have seen many SSC students, including participants of the
    International Astronomical Olympiads, reading advanced books of
    astrophysics, discussing pulsars etc. But these students fail to
    explain that Mercy and Venus are inner planets and Mercury is the
    first. Of course, this is not the fault of students but, I believe, of
    Have you heard of the professor of mechanics who didn't know you need to oil a bike to stop it squeaking?
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Reply to Robert Olley: Thanks for your kind words about my comment, for your question and for your suggestion. 1) SSC means Secondary School Certificate. Our high school / secondary school students, from India, (age: 15+) have to pass an exam and obtain the above certificate. After SSC, they can join science, commerce or arts and so need special guidance in making proper choice. Therefore I am bringing physics, astronomy and maths closer through such models. 2) I will do the needful urgently so that members of scientific blogging can have a look at my model. Thanks, Robert Olley, and looking forward to such queries.

    to Dileep Sathe:

    I've just had a look at the picture of your model.  If one were to use one of the inner circles to represent Earth and the outer ring Mars, then one could explain retrograde motion.  Since as a rough approximation the orbital period of Mars could be taken as 2 years, then it would be convenient to use the spokes of your model as a time reference, two spokes for Earth to one for Mars.

    Suddenly my mind jumps back to my schooldays, when we made a "human model" of the Solar System, which we set up in a school playing field.  We were each asked to volunteer to make a scale model of the Sun or one of the planets.  Two or three did the Sun, which in each case was some kind of circular framework about 4 feet in diameter.  Others brought one of the inner planets, mostly small balls of plasticene, and one or two did Saturn, putting a cardboard ring round a tennis ball.   I volunteered for Jupiter, and then wondered what I had let myself in for.

    Fortunately in our garden my father had grown some mini-pumpkins, of which one was the right size, about 5 inches in diameter, and the right orangy-yellow colour.  On this I painted some belts and the Great Red Spot.  Alas, when we spaced out the Solar System to make the orbits the right scale also, there was not enough room in the field for the orbit of Jupiter.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Dileep Sathe
    To: Robert Olley
    Your suggestion of using an inner circle for earth and showing the retrograde motion of Mars is a good one - conceptually. But, I am more concerned with the educational aspects, visualization etc - as this model is for SSC students - particularly. For such students, considering the Earth as a point like object (in my right hand in the photo) is also difficult to learn, compared with planetary distances in the Solar system. But one can try your suggestion in a "senior" college where students are of age 18 and more.
    From Dileep Sathe
    To Dileep Sathe,
    Thanks to your mail and reference. Yes, I fully agree with you that we do not teach how to prove the sequence of planets.
    Believe it or not, I had such questions in school days, but replies were discouraging. This is must, as students starts thinking scientifically than accepting it just like facts. And your model is best to teach at school level. With such scientific way of teaching, students will get more attracted towards astronomy as they get confidence.