IYA2009 news round-up #1: 9 January 2009

9 January 2009

Astronomy captures the attention of not just the public, but also the media. IYA2009 has been featuring prominently on news websites and blogs, leading to a veritable explosion of coverage since New Year's Day. Gathered here are some selected highlights, giving a taste of what is out there.

Let's start with an article from India PR Wire, all about the Goa-based Association of Friends of Astronomy (AFA). The AFA have a commendable range of activities planned for 2009, with enthusiasm that sets an example to all. One particularly active member is described as being "possessed by astronomy", which certainly conjures an interesting image. They may have their eyes to the skies, but their feet are firmly on the ground, as they realise the need to capture an audience before unleashing scientific facts. How will they do this? A public screening of the film "Aliens". Sign me up!

Italy next, and Lab Spaces have been writing about how a team of astronomers and museum creators from the Arcetri Observatory and the Institute and Museum of the History of Science, both in Florence, are trying to recreate the telescope and conditions that led to Galileo's observations. They have already checked the Moon and Saturn, and will soon move onto Jupiter's moons and the phases of Venus. Taking the aim of "seeing what Galileo would have seen" rather literally, the team want to open Galileo's tomb and obtain DNA evidence to determine the medical reason he died blind. 

Moving swiftly on to The Columbus Dispatch, which gives a United States-centred overview of IYA2009. It is a short but sweet article, and the author generously gives a plug to his colleagues' exhibit, "Planet Panorama". Also in that part of the world is news courtesy of Media Newswire that the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts aim to bring astronomy down to Earth with the Winter 2009 Theme Semester "The Universe: Yours to Discover." There will be high-profile lectures, star-gazing parties, science cafes, concerts, and much more, most of which are free and open to the public. And at the University of Wyoming, student Dan Lyons has been selected as a NASA IYA2009 Graduate Student Ambassador. He will receive a $2,000 grant and up to $700 for materials and travel reimbursement. Don't spend it all at once, Dan!

The marvellous astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope has a note about IYA2009 written by the editors and released on the website. Their dedication to the Year has even led them to post a superb article about IYA2009 online, free of charge. Thanks!

Now a notably fine article by Andrew Stephens from The Age about his discovery of observational astronomy and the science that surrounds it. Hopefully his experiences will be mirrored by many more during 2009. Half the length and including a significant section copied and pasted from the UNESCO website is an iTWire overview of IYA2009. It is informative and contains many useful hyperlinks, so gets some bonus points.

Torontoist has run an article about IYA2009 posters on Toronto public transport. The posters are well designed and clever, making commuters think about astronomy in novel ways. Bringing science to the people is an aim of IYA2009, and the project organisers are certainly achieving that. The same can be said of local planetarium staff, according to Tallahasee.com. The site has given some coverage to free events, where attendees are shown the constellations and then told mythology behind them.

Off to Oz next, and The Australian has featured a well-written article about how IYA2009 can help Australia. It serves as a warning of how neglecting science can negatively impact society, and so is a timely reminder that IYA2009 can go much deeper than simply showing people sights through telescopes. Not that that is a bad thing of course, as demonstrated by astronomy enthusiasts also in Australia, as reported on Sunshine Coast Daily Online. Four telescopes from the Wappa Falls Observatory were used to show passers-by what our nearest star is really like. Let's hope they remembered the solar filters.

More telescope news was provided by Contra Costa Times, which bagged an interview with Stephen Pompea, an astronomer working with Galileoscopes. These little instruments certainly impress, and will give many people excellent views of the heavens during 2009, and long beyond.

Light pollution is a growing concern, reports The Scotsman. Stating that a fifth of the world's population can no longer see the Milky Way with the naked eye due to artificial lighting, it sees the Dark Skies Awareness programme as a good way of turning the situation around. They also argue that sensible lighting could conserve energy, protect wildlife, and benefit human health. The report says that there are plans to create a "dark sky park" in Scotland, specifically for visitors to enjoy the night sky.

The blogs at Wired have been talking about IYA2009, and given special mention to the Cosmic Diary Cornerstone Project. Says author Todd Dailey, "If your geeklet is interested in astronomy as a career, the site is a great place to find out more about what astronomers do day-by-day." The Vatican also supports the Cosmic Diary, reports the Catholic News Service. Vatican astronomer Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno is one of more than 50 scientists from around the world contributing to the blog (see his entries here). The Vatican Observatory is also helping to organise a week on astrobiology at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in November, among many other projects. Church leaders hope that "the celebrations finally will put to rest the long suspicion that the church is hostile toward science."

And finally, hot off the press, AthenaWeb has just posted an announcement expressing their support and dedication to IYA2009. Astronomy films will be hosted and readily available on the site all year long. To make things even easier, you can subscribe to their monthly newsletter.

That's all the news there's time for, but this is just a sample of coverage. For even more stories, check out the press section of the official IYA2009 website. Expect another news round-up next week, so you can keep up to date with how the media are tracking IYA2009 developments.

See you then!

Lee Pullen
IYA2009 Staff Writer


Organisational Associates:

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is endorsed by the United Nations and the International Council of Science.