Monday, January 26, 2009

2009: UN International Year of Astronomy

Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences. Astronomers of early civilisations performed methodical observations of the night sky, and astronomical artifacts have been found from much earlier periods. However, the invention of the telescope was required before astronomy was able to develop into a modern science. Historically, astronomy has included disciplines as diverse as astrometry, celestial navigation, observational astronomy, the making of calendars, and even, astrology but professional astronomy is nowadays often considered to be synonymous with astrophysics. Since the 20th century, the field of professional astronomy split into observational and theoretical branches. Observational astronomy is focused on acquiring and analysing data, mainly using basic principles of physics. Theoretical astronomy is oriented towards the development of computer or analytical models to describe astronomical objects and phenomena. The two fields complement each other, with theoretical astronomy seeking to explain the observational results, and observations being used to confirm theoretical results.
Keeping the significance of the above points in mind, the 62nd United Nations (UN) General Assembly has declared 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009). In fact, the idea to proclaim the year 2009 as IYA was mooted at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly, held way back in July 2003 in the Australian city of Sydney. The IAU unanimously approved a resolution in favour of the declaration of IYA 2009. Besides, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) General Conference at its 33rd session recommended, based on Italy’s initiative, that the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution to declare 2009 as IYA. The UN has designated the UNESCO as the lead agency for the IYA 2009. The IAU will function as the facilitating body for IYA 2009. The focal theme of the IYA 2009 is "The Universe, Yours to Discover".
Major Goals and Objectives
The IYA 2009 will make astronomical breakthroughs more visible in the daily lives of billions of people through all available means of communication (TV/radio documentaries, newspapers, web pages, exhibitions, stamps, blogs, web portals, advertising campaigns etc). It will facilitate individual astronomical observing opportunities. It will enable as many laypeople as possible, especially children, to look at the sky through a telescope and gain a basic understanding of the universe.
The IYA 2009 will envolve astronomical communities of the developing nations in the year, thereby providing examples of how outreach and education is carried out in different parts of the world. It will develop formal and informal educational material and distribute all over the world. Conduct focused training of event leaders and presenters. It will also connect as many individuals (named "IYA Ambassadors") as well as organisations (amateur and professional) in networks, for instance by creating of new internal and external electronic communication infrastructures. These networks will become part of the heritage of IYA 2009.
Besides bringing the issues of natural environment and energy preservation to the agenda of decision makers, the IYA 2009 will facilitate portraits - on TV, in web blogs, biographies - of scientists that break with the traditional "lab coat view" of scientists, showing the excitement of scientific discovery, the international aspect of scientific collaborations and portraying the social sides of scientists.
Global Celebration
The IYA 2009 is a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture to mark the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by the Italian scientist and astronomer, Galileo Galilei, who laid the foundations of modern science. The momentous event triggered a scientific revolution which profoundly affected our worldview. Now telescopes on the ground and in space explore the universe, 24 hours a day, across all wavelengths of light. According to the President of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Catherine Cesarsky, "The IYA 2009 gives all nations a chance to participate in this ongoing exciting scientific and technological revolution."
The IYA 2009 will highlight global cooperation for peaceful purposes –- the search for our cosmic origin and our common heritage which connect all citizens of planet Earth. For several millennia, astronomers have worked together across all boundaries including geographic, gender, age, culture and race, in line with the principles of the UN Charter. In that sense, astronomy is a classic example of how science can contribute towards furthering international cooperation. The IYA 2009 activities will take place at the global and regional levels, and especially at the national and local levels. National nodes in each country have been formed to prepare activities for 2009. These nodes establish collaborations between professional and amateur astronomers, science centres, educators and science communicators in preparing activities in the year 2009.
Source of Inspiration
The IYA 2009 aims to convey the excitement of personal discovery, the pleasure of sharing fundamental knowledge about the universe and our place in it, and the merits of the scientific method. Astronomy is an invaluable source of inspiration for humankind throughout all nations. So far 99 nations and 14 organisations have signed up to participate in the IYA 2009 –- an unprecedented network of committed communicators and educators in astronomy.
The IYA 2009 seeks to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the universe through the day and night time sky –- and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery. All humans should realize the impact of astronomy and basic sciences on our daily lives, and understand better how scientific knowledge can contribute to a more equitable and peaceful society. It also seeks to stimulate worldwide interest, especially among young people, in astronomy and science under IYA 2009 events and activities will promote a greater appreciation of the inspirational aspects of astronomy that embody an invaluable shared resource for all nations.

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