- Happy new year!
2009 is now finally upon us, I wish everybody a happy new year! As many of you probably already know, this year marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo looking through a telescope for the very first time.
Back in 1609, Galileo Galilei was the first person to use a telescope to look at the sky, a year after it was invented by Hans Lippershey. He discovered many astounding things such as the rings around Saturn, craters on the moon and the epic discovery of moons around Jupiter!
It could be said that his most profound discovery was the phases of Venus, this showed that Venus orbited the Sun, therefore adding credence to the unpopular Copernican view of the Sun being at the centre of the universe with Earth orbiting around it. The widely accepted view back then was the Earth being at the centre of the universe and because Galileo refused to believe this, he was put under house arrest by the Church in 1633. His crime was believing the Copernican doctrine.
Because it has been 400 years since Galileo looked skywards with a telescope, the UN General Assembly, UNESCO and the International Astronomical Union have designated 2009 as the 'International Year of Astronomy'. This epic unbridled celebration of astronomy and our love for the night sky is a once in a lifetime event!
The purpose of this unprecedented event is to bring astronomy to all of humanity as the night sky belongs to everybody! Thousands of people from 135 countries are involved in many activities.
One of the main projects is 'From Earth To The Universe', an exhibition of more than 100 astronomical images. The exhibits will be held in dozens of countries that include America, the United Kingdom, Spain, China, Pakistan, Australia and Chile. Rather than been held in conventional expected institutions such as planetariums and museums, they will also be displayed in parks, train stations, art galleries and even airports! The idea behind this is that the universe should be as accessable as other types of media and to stimulate awareness of the universe we live in amongst individuals who are apathetic or uninterested in science. The carefully selected images come from an eclectic array of many observatories and hard working amateur astrophotographers that include the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra x-ray observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Canada France Hawaii Telescope, the Cerro Tololo Inter American Observatory, multiple space probes, David Malin, Rob Gendler, R. Jay GaBany, Mischa Schirmer and Johannes Schedler.
In addition to this, many other projects will be taking place, these include building workable replicas of the original telescope used by Galileo. Another one is the 'Cosmic Diary', a collection of the accounts of everyday life for professional astronomers and what they do in their research. The other major one is '100 Hours of Astronomy', a nonstop global marathon of live feeds from many research institutions, observatories and other activities. This is to encourage as many people as possible to look through a telescope for the very first time.
Astronomy has almost always been an international effort, collaborations between people from many countries is fairly common. It is quite saddening to see humanity divided into sides, manmade borders creating divisions between populations. Looking back from the Moon in 1968, the daringly audacious Apollo 8 mission to the moon gave humanity its first ever view of the glittering globe of Earth.
The astronauts James Lovell, William Anders and Frank Borman were privy to the full majestic view of Earth, a fragile vulnerable orb, one borderless world that was home to all of mankind.
Humanity is one people with one sky, we should all take the time to peer upwards, marvel at the simple pleasure of seeing the bright disk of the moon, the blazing jewel that is Venus and the magical blanket of the stars, seemingly wrapped around our world. We are not apart, we are a part of the universe, it's ours to discover and now is the time to revel in the unity of the sky and the lands that we traverse!
Since 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, the sky will put on a blazing show for us, namely the solar eclipse in July! What makes this one extra special is that totality will last for a whopping 6.5 minutes! This makes it the longest solar eclipse of the 21st century and the next longest one will occur in 2132! Other sights of the sky include Saturn's rings being oriented edge on, so anybody looking through a telescope will not be able to see the famous rings of Saturn although it will be a unique experience in seeing Saturn without its rings!
No year is complete without the launch of space probes to unravel the mysteries of the universe. The most prominent one to be launched will be Kepler, a space telescope whose mission is to try and find Earth like exoplanets around other stars. The primary instrument will be a 1.4 metre mirror that will be used to collect the light from 100 000 stars in a small patch of sky between Cygnus and Lyra. It will continuously observe the stars for 3.5 years in order to better detect any transits of the stars, as planets that lie in the habitable zones of stars are vastly more difficult to detect due to their proximity to their parent stars.
The other important mission in 2009 is the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. Originally scheduled for October 2008, it was delayed due to the failure of a data handling unit. After the servicing mission in May, the primary Advanced Camera for Surveys will be made operational and the WFPC2 will be superseded by the more powerful WFPC3.
2008 was a phonomenal year for amateur astrophotography with hundreds of awe inspiring images being produced by many talented individuals.
One of these was Rob Gendler, considered by many as the greatest amateur astrophotographer in the entire world! Throughout 2008, he delighted and enthralled the world with his epic snapshots of the universe. Since he acquired a remote observatory in Australia towards the end of 2007, many of his jaw dropping images showcased the many marvels of the southern sky including the Vela Supernova, Omega Centauri, the Jewel Box Cluster and the Large Magellanic Cloud which can be seen at the top of this news entry.
Undoubtedly, he will continue his cosmic voyage and share more glittering jewels of the universe with us.
He will also be releasing his new book in May, "Capturing the Stars: Astrophotography by the Masters". As the title suggests, it is a showcase of 30 professional and amateur astrophotographers. It will include their images and an insight into their philosophies and techniques.