Library of Congress
|Galileo Galilei shows off his telescope as well as his astronomical discoveries to three women in a 1655 engraving.
The International Year of Astronomy is ending, but the legacy of the last 12 months of celestial celebration will continue, under night skies and especially on the Internet.
Astronomers around the world contributed to the IYA under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union and other organizations in 148 countries, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei's groundbreaking telescope observations in 1609. The activities included "100 Hours of Astronomy" in April, Galilean Nights in October ... and the distribution of more than 110,000 low-cost, high-performance telescopes in 96 countries.
Another 70,000 "Galileoscopes" are currently in production, and more than 15,000 of them will be given out to schoolteachers across the United States thanks to a $250,000 private donation announced just this week.
All this would be enough to justify devoting a year to the celebration of astronomy, and then quietly taking a break and moving on to the next "international year." But wait ... there's more: Several Web sites have been established to keep the astronomy buzz going into 2010 and beyond.
The Astronomy Beyond 2009 Web site, for example, will carry on the celebration of Galilean glories, starting with live streaming video of this weekend's IYA closing ceremonies in Padua, Italy. And although they're called "closing" ceremonies, the International Astronomical Union hopes to kee the spirit of 2009 alive for years to come.
"IYA 2009 may be over, but it leaves an important legacy for us to continue," IAU President Robert Williams said in a news release. "The groundwork has been laid for astronomers and enthusiasts around the world to use the momentum gained from IYA 2009 to ensure that the universe is still ours to discover far into the future."
One of the groups taking advantage of that momentum is the Astrosphere New Media Association.
"This project rose out of two needs," astronomer Pamela Gay, the association's executive director, said in a news release. "There are many of us working together in our spare time to communicate astronomy to the world. We're building tools, writing content and then giving it all away. What we needed was a central advocate who could work to find us a little funding for travel and servers and just help us get what we do out to the world. Astrosphere is here to be that advocate, and to provide IYA projects a home beyond 2009."
One of those projects is "365 Days of Astronomy," a daily podcast that has now been extended for another 365 days. Another is Second Astronomy, which will extend real-world astronomy into the virtual world known as Second Life. Yet another project is Astronomy Cast, a mostly-weekly series of educational audio programs.
One of the fun features that came to light during the windup of the IYA was rolled out by Wolfram | Alpha, an innovative search engine created by Mathematica's Stephen Wolfram.
If you type "Jupiter" into the search box, you get the basic stats on the giant planet and moons that Galileo observed 400 years earlier - including a graphic showing the current configuration of the Galilean moons. You can do something similar with Saturn, or Pluto, or Eris and Haumea. You can even get a fix on Sedna, which is arguably the solar system's oddest oddball.
The wide variety of worlds, in our solar system and beyond, was a major theme for the American Astronomical Society's winter meeting, which is also winding up. Scientists thrilled to hear about a new super-Earth, the planet-hunting Kepler satellite's first discoveries and the first image from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, which could conceivably find a Planet X on the solar system's far fringe. But this week's revelations were just the beginning. You can look forward to hearing much more from WISE as well as Kepler in the months ahead.
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