Marek Kukula and Rob Edwards introduce International Year of Astronomy 2009

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Marek Kukula and Rob Edwards introduce International Year of Astronomy 2009

Marek Kukula and Rob Edwards look ahead to the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Find out what this year-long celebration of astronomy is all about, what’s in store at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and what’s going on around the UK.

Rob:
Hello, I’m Rob Edwards from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

Marek:
And I’m Marek Kukula. We’re here today to tell you a little bit about the International Year of Astronomy, or IYA 2009.

Rob:
So what’s the International Year of Astronomy all about?

Marek:
Well, as the name suggests, it’s an international event and it’s running all through 2009. It’s being organised by the International Astronomical Union in Paris, along with UNESCO, and its slogan is: ‘The Universe: Yours to Discover.’
So it’s really a chance to celebrate the whole of astronomy for the whole of next year. And it’s a chance for people all around the world to get involved in astronomy either by observing themselves or by finding out a little more about what we now know about the universe around us.

So there are some key things going on around the world during the year. Various themes: looking at helping to get skies darker for city dwellers so they can see the stars; celebrating the contributions that women have made over the last few centuries to astronomy; looking at the lives of current researchers in astronomy via blogs and online diaries and things like that.

Rob:
So why next year in particular?

Marek:
Well, 2009 is a great year to celebrate astronomy because there are lots of big astronomical anniversaries coming up. Most importantly it’s the 400th anniversary of Galileo first using a telescope to look at the sky. And he straightaway made a really important discovery: he found moons going around Jupiter, which demonstrated quite incontrovertibly that not everything went around the Earth.
So this was really a philosophically profound discovery, and we hope to be celebrating some of the other major discoveries and major turning points in the way we think about the universe, that astronomy has helped us to achieve over the last 400 years.

For the Royal Observatory this is a great opportunity, because of course we’ve existed for most of those 400 years, so we have a history and artefacts, telescopes and things, that go back over that whole period.

Next year of course is also the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings – the first men on the moon. So we’ll be looking at that. It’s also the 125th anniversary of the selection of Greenwich as the prime meridian for the world. So something for us to celebrate here in Greenwich.

Rob:
So during the International Year of Astronomy, there will be opportunities for the public to come to the Royal Observatory and to observe the stars and planets through telescopes, both in evening sessions and for daytime observing for the International Moonwatch Weeks.
What else is going to be going on at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich for IYA?

Marek:
We’re going to provide a packed programme, and I hope there’s going to be something in it for everybody. We’re going to focus on a number of astronomical themes. I’ve already mentioned some of them. The history of astronomy, which is really embodied in the Royal Observatory site here in at Greenwich.
But also we’re going to be looking at some of the planets where there are exciting missions right now sending back images and data, so Mars and Saturn. And also throughout the year we’re going to be taking a little bit of a look at something I know both myself and you, Robert, are really excited about.It’s the way that science has fed into science fiction. And looking at some of the ways that then that science fiction has then maybe even influenced scientists as well. So that’s going to be quite an exciting theme too.

Rob:
Is there anything in particular that you’d like to pull out of that programme?

Marek:
Yes. I think one of the really exciting things, certainly that I’m most excited about, is going to be happening in the summer, where we’re going to get people from the Cassini team to come in and speak at the Observatory. Cassini is the spacecraft that is currently orbiting Saturn at the moment. It’s been there for four years and it’s been sending back amazing, spectacular images and data about Saturn, its ring system, and its moons.
So this will be an opportunity for the public to come in and actually meet the scientists and find out what the latest discoveries are.

Rob:
So we’ve talked about what’s going to be happening at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich in particular, and you’ve mentioned that this is an international event, but what’s going to be happening within the UK?

Marek:
There should be a wide range of events happening all over the country. I know that a lot of amateur astronomy groups are going to be running events, so there will be opportunities for the public, hopefully for some people to go for the first time and look through telescopes at things like the moon, Jupiter, its satellites, galaxies, nebulae, things like that.
Also a lot of astronomy departments in universities and also museums and science centres around the country will be running events. So the best thing to do is to check out the International Year of Astronomy Website and there’ll be listings there of things happing in your area throughout the year.

Rob:
And of course our program of events will be publicised on our website at nmm.ac.uk. So if you’d like to keep up-to-date with what’s going to be happening at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, you can find out more information there.
And, Marek, I gather there are going to be more astronomy podcasts throughout IYA.

Marek:
That’s right. We’ll be continuing our monthly astronomy podcasts here, and we’ll be looking in more detail as the months go by at some of the themes that I mentioned previously.
But it won’t be just our voices that people will hear because we’re going to get in some working astronomers from the UK and perhaps from around the world as well to talk a little bit about their own work, their research, and their lives as astronomers. So we hope to catch up with people throughout the year.

That was the International Year of Astronomy here at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Goodbye.

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