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Sunday, 8 February 2009

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The Universe:

Yours to Discover

Who does not like the sheer wonder of a starry night? But apart from the moon, how many of us can name even a planet in the night sky, leave alone a star, even one as bright as Sirius? Astronomy, basically the study of stars and planets, is a fascinating subject.

Unfortunately, only a very few are interested in this subject in Sri Lanka and many other countries. Yet, one does not need a very costly computer-controlled telescope (fine, if you can afford one) to gaze at the stars - a low-end telescope or even a set of binoculars will do.

That is the first step in discovering the Universe we live in. This is exactly what Galileo did exactly 400 years ago.

This is where the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) comes in. As you guessed, this is the Year of Astronomy. It will be a year long celebration of astronomy, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the first recorded astronomical observations with a telescope by Galileo Galilei and the publication of Johannes Kepler’s Astronomia nova in the 17th century.

Of course, astronomy has reached starry heights since Galileo, with space telescopes, radio telescopes and unmanned space missions. Yet, the fundamental principle remains the same - there are still so many things we do not know, including, whether life exists elsewhere in the universe.

The Year was declared by the 62nd General Assembly of the UN. A global scheme, laid out by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), has also been endorsed by UNESCO - the UN body responsible for educational, scientific and cultural matters. The opening ceremony was held in Paris on Jan. 15-16. More than 140 countries are participating in IYA2009 activities.

The aim of the Year is to stimulate worldwide interest, especially among the young, in astronomy and science under the central theme “The Universe, Yours to Discover”.

IYA2009 events and activities will promote a greater appreciation of the inspirational aspects of astronomy that embody an invaluable shared resource for all nations.

It will help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day and night sky, and engage in a personal sense of wonder and discovery.

IYA2009 activities are taking place at global and regional levels, and especially at the national and local levels. National Nodes in each country, including Sri Lanka, are running activities throughout the year, aimed at establishing collaborations between professional and amateur astronomers, science centres, educators, and science communicators.

“Everyone should realise the impact of astronomy and other fundamental sciences on our daily lives, and understand how scientific knowledge can contribute to a more equitable and peaceful society,” says an IYA spokesman.

IYA2009 will promote and facilitate the creation of international networks to foster a global appreciation of the role and value of science and astronomy as a unifying activity for humanity.

IYA2009 will start up, connect and support networks of professional and amateur astronomers, educators and astrophysicists from all over the world, so that all these valuable sources of knowledge can be shared.

The networks of hundreds, if not thousands of astronomical organisations, nationally and internationally, will be one of the legacies of IYA2009 that will last far beyond the year 2009.

(Watch this space for more updates on IYA and space exploration)

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