IYA2009 Updates

A Star Party at the White House

9 October 2009

On Wednesday evening, October 7th, U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted 150 middle-school students on the White House lawn for an evening of stargazing and other astronomy activities. The goal, according to the White House press office, was "to highlight the President's commitment to science, engineering, and math education...and to express his support for astronomy in particular -- for its capacity to promote a greater awareness of our place in the universe, expand human knowledge, and inspire the next generation by showing them the beauty and mysteries of the night sky."

 In his opening remarks, President Obama cited the 400th anniversary of Galileo turning a telescope skyward, though disappointingly he didn't mention the International Year of Astronomy 2009. But a flyer promoting several upcoming IYA2009 events, including Galilean Nights, was distributed to all participants. You can watch the President's speech at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSgtXggeUKA and read a transcript of it at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-an-Astronomy-Event-with-Students/.

Among those attending the invitation-only event was U.S. IYA2009 Program Director Stephen M. Pompea, who is also a key member of the Galileoscope team. He brought a Galileoscope with him to the star party, and President Obama and his family all looked at Jupiter through it. They suggested they might get one to use at the presidential retreat at Camp David. The President's science advisor, physicist John Holdren, expressed amazement that the Galileoscope could be so good and yet so inexpensive.

Report from Richard Tresch Fienberg (American Astronomical Society)

‘Be an INTEGRAL astronomer’ – competition winners announced

8 October 2009

Students from India and South Africa have been selected as the winners of the European Space Agency's ‘Be an INTEGRAL astronomer' competition.  

To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009, ESA organised a competition in which students were presented with data from the European INTEGRAL space observatory and asked to study the Galactic Bulge, one of the most active regions at the heart of our Galaxy. Entrants were required to perform research tasks using INTEGRAL data of variable X-ray sources. The tasks included interpreting the data, searching for evidence of variability and then writing a report on their research.

In the secondary school students' category, the winner was Shyamal Patel of Baroda High School, Vadodara, India. 18 year-old Shyamal is a keen amateur astronomer who has participated in several activities to promote and increase awareness of astronomy, including a workshop for school students during the total solar eclipse of 22 July 2009. He was previously the winner of a student competition to attend the 2007 International Astronautical Congress.

"My interest in the field of astronomy always keeps me excited to explore our Universe," said Shyamal. "(The) ‘Be an Integral Astronomer' competition gave me an opportunity and motivation to work, explore and understand the high energy Universe."

The runners-up in this category were:

  • Cristina Cirstoiu, Colegiul Naþional "Vlaicu Vodã", Curtea de Arge, Romania.
  • Lauriane Fillot, Lycee Louis-le-Grand, Paris, France.
  • Stanislav Fort, Gymnázium Pierra de Coubertine, Tabor, Czech Republic.
  • James Wills, Winchester College, UK

The winner in the category for university undergraduates was Michelle Knights, from Rhodes University, South Africa. Michelle has been an avid amateur astronomer since she was about six years old. She loved Physics at school and decided to study it at Rhodes University, where she is currently in her third year, majoring in Maths and Physics.

"I was very excited when I heard about the INTEGRAL Astronomer competition," she said. "The prizes sounded fantastic of course but I really wanted to try my hand at some ‘real' astronomy. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring ways of finding information about objects from natural data and I felt a bit like a detective trying to solve a puzzle."

The runners-up in this category were:

  • PhyllisTzu-Ching Yen, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.
  • Francisco Hernandez, Universidad de Valladolid, Spain.
  • Vaidehi Paliya, Banaras Hindu University, India.
  • Jacopo Diamanti, Sapienza - Università di Roma, Italy.

First prize for the two winners includes a trip to the European Space Astronomy Centre in Spain, plus an 'Astronomer's starter kit', comprising a Celestron SkyScout, a Media Player and the IYA2009 book ‘Eyes on the Skies'.

The INTEGRAL competition was run as part of the ‘International Year of Astronomy 2009 100 Hours of Astronomy' Cornerstone project, in which people around the world were given access to leading astronomical observatories.

ESA's INTEGRAL gamma ray observatory has been making groundbreaking observations of the most energetic objects in the Universe since its launch in October 2002.

More information: http://astronomy2009.esa.int

Will you be sharing the Galileo Experience?

8 October 2009

With two weeks to go until the highly anticipated Galilean Nights Cornerstone Project on 22-24 October, preparations are in full swing for the hundreds of activities taking place all over the world.  If it isn't already, get those dates marked in your diaries and head over to the project website http://www.galileannights.org/ and find details of all of the events near you, enter the astrophotography competition, find out about remote observing and check out the many great resources available.  If you are organising any astronomy activities over the Galilean Nights dates, then you must make sure that you let us and the world know by registering your event on the website today: http://www.galileannights.org/register_event.html

White House Star Party: Update

8 October 2009

Last night US President Barack Obama invited a group of local students over to the White House to explore astronomy.

 More news on: http://news.google.com/news/story?pz=1&cf=all&hl=en&cf=all&ncl=dMz7rFfBxSXhhoMpXcG2FQyk9pkxM


New Photo Exhibition Turns Lens on UK Astronomers

7 October 2009

Some of the UK's finest astronomers have taken a break from their star gazing to become stars themselves of an exciting new photography exhibition by acclaimed photographer Max Alexander.

The new exhibition, funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and showing at the Royal Albert Hall, celebrates the careers of the talented UK scientists at the forefront of our understanding of the cosmos, and celebrates the UK's proud heritage in astronomy and space science.

Funded as part of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009), the exhibition consists of both interpretive portraits and documentary photography of professional and amateur astronomy, ranging from academic research and observation through to the stargazing public, capturing the truly amazing journey of discovery on which both scientists and the public are travelling.

Max Alexander said, "I've long thought of doing a series of portraits of UK-based astronomers, and the designation of 2009 as International year of astronomy provided the impetus to make it happen. The sponsorship of the STFC and the support of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics, enabled me to see it through. I hope that viewers will be enlightened and uplifted by this extraordinary, committed group of people, and what they discover about the Universe. Scientists need to have a higher profile in society if we want to advance our knowledge of the Universe and attract future generations to careers in science."

The reportage section of the exhibition includes some of the UK's most iconic images in the field; from the sunrise at Stonehenge during the Summer Solstice, to the laser line at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, to the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton.

The portrait pictures show over forty astronomers in a dynamic new light, many away from their usual environments of offices, computers and observatories. They also reveal the diversity among UK astronomers and include not just the leading figures in astronomy, but a cross-section of people working in the field, including amateur observers, young people and people from varied cultures.

Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), said. "This wonderful collection of images really shows the diversity of UK astronomers and gives people a flavour of some of the amazing work our scientists are engaged in. We hope they will inspire the people who see them and will help bring the wonder of astronomy to the young people of the UK, inspiring them take up careers in science and continue the UK's excellence in science and technology."

Many of the pictures incorporate concepts derived from the astronomers' work. Examples include Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell pictured with a lighthouse and beam, representing her work on pulsars; Professor Mike Cruise with the ripples in a pond, representing the ripples in space time of gravitational waves; space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin in a specialised satellite testing chamber and amateur astronomer Peter Birtwhistle, who discovers asteroids, against a background of ocean and clouds, because most of the water on Earth probably came from water-rich asteroids and comets raining down on the planet in its youth.

Dr Haley Gomez, one of the young scientists featured in the exhibition, said, "Max has really captured the personalities behind the big science questions with these photographs. It's great to show the public that astronomers are ordinary people from all walks of life, and above all passionate about what they do."

Max Alexander said, "When I think about the people I've met and photographed for this project, I see inspiring people at the cutting edge of what they do, which is unravelling the secrets of the universe. I was surprised by their creativity and got a real sense of the community of astronomers. Although there's nothing here of the celebrity culture of pop stars and reality shows, I wanted to show something of the glamour of science through these inspirational people."

More information:

Explorers of the Universe

Explores of the Universe at the Royal Albert Hall
Thursday 24 September - Monday 2 November 2009


FETTU Braille Exhibit

7 October 2009

As part of the "From Earth to the Universe" (FETTU) project, a NASA-funded tactile and Braille exhibit for the visually impaired community was launched in July 2009. FETTU panels for the visually impaired were produced featuring tactile displays as well as Braille versions of the caption material for a subset of the FETTU images with materials based on the book "Touch the Invisible Sky". The tactile exhibit is currently at the Atlanta Center for the Visually Impaired (Atlanta, Georgia), the Perkins School for the Blind (Boston, Massachusetts) and Columbia University (New York, New York) and will move on to additional locations this fall in Maryland, Arkansas, and Puerto Rico.

For a calendar of FETTU events, please visit http://www.fromearthtotheuniverse.org/table_events.php
For more information on the tactile display, visit http://www.fromearthtotheuniverse.org/tactile.php

Source: http://astronomy2009.us/blog/2009/10/06/fettu-braille-exhibit/

2009 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to inventors of CCD chips

6 October 2009

The Nobel Prize for Physics 2009 has been awarded to two scientists for their work developing Charge Coupled Devices, or CCDs for short. These are used in digital imaging devices, notably for professional and high-end amateur telescopes. The remarkable pictures we see from the depths of the Universe are thanks to CCD technology.

½ of the prize has been awarded to Charles K. Kao, from China and the United Kingdom for his work involving the transmission of light in fiber optics. The other half of the prize has been awarded to Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith, from the USA. During an post-announcement interview with Boyle, he expressed his delight and told a story of how happy he was after seeing images sent back from Mars probes that were possible thanks to CCD technology.

The official panel said the award has been given "for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication" and "for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit - the CCD sensor".

The Nobel Prize in Physics is a highly prestigious award, given once a year for truly outstanding work. The selection process is long and difficult, ensuring that only the very best works are considered for the prize. It is fitting that the Prize awarded during IYA2009 should be won by scientists who have developed tools vital to astronomers, and skywatchers around the world are sure to join together in congratulating Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith on this remarkable achievement.

Official Nobel Prize website: http://www.nobelprize.org/

17,000 people visit German IYA2009-themed science festival

6 October 2009

Every year since 2001 the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (German Physical Society) has organised a major science festival in a different venue and with a different lead topic. In 2009 the choice was easy, and so the late September "Highlights of Physics" in Cologne had the theme "Address: Milky Way", in honour of IYA2009. It is one of only a handful of federally funded IYA2009 activities in Germany, where most projects rest on the shoulders of volunteers.  

Over five days approximately 17,000 visitors to the historical Gürzenich complex - ranging from kindergarteners to students to adults - had a look at an entertaining and highly informative mix of exhibits, talks featuring experiments, and spectacular stage shows. While local universities in particular had a chance to present their current astronomical work, naturally only few of their exhibits had the strong hands-on character that are typical for the Highlights der Physik, and so other experiments from mechanics and electrodynamics were added.

Spanning the full range from hard science data to "physics magic" extravaganzas, the Highlights of Physics are "edutainment" at its best - but they also involve tremendous work (and financial resources) by the organisers and participating scientists alike, and thus the concept is hard to copy.

Homepage: http://physik-highlights.de/

Press Release on 2009: http://www.dpg-physik.de/presse/pressemit/2009/dpg-pm-2009-26.html

Report by Daniel Fischer.

International Telecommunications Union highlights the importance of radio astronomy during IYA2009

6 October 2009

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has released a document bringing attention to radio astronomy and ITU activities in this area. Linking with IYA2009, the background to the Year is given, along with a list of ITU radio astronomy projects.

ITU is the leading United Nations agency for information and communication technology issues, and the global focal point for governments and the private sector in developing networks and services. For nearly 145 years, ITU has coordinated the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoted international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, worked to improve telecommunication infrastructure in the developing world, established the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems and addressed the global challenges of our times, such as mitigating climate change and strengthening cybersecurity.

See the IYA2009-related section here: http://www.itu.int/ITU-R/information/promotion/e-flash/3/article5.html

The Shaw Prize Lecture in Astronomy

6 October 2009

The Shaw Prize is an international award to honour individuals who are currently active in their respective fields and who have achieved distinguished and significant advances, who have made outstanding contributions in culture and the arts, or who in other domains have achieved excellence. The award is dedicated to furthering societal progress, enhancing quality of life, and enriching humanity's spiritual civilization. Preference will be given to individuals whose significant work was recently achieved.

The Shaw Prize for 2009 consists of three annual awards: the Prize in Astronomy, the Prize in Life Science and Medicine, and the Prize in Mathematical Sciences. Each prize carries a monetary award of US$1 million.

In support of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, The Shaw Prize Lecture in Astronomy, organized by The Chinese University of Hong Kong on October 8, 2009 at The Shaw College, will be broadcast live and interested parties are invited to view the lecture on-line. A link will be posted on the IYA Hong Kong node website (http://www.astronomy2009.hk/activities/ShawLecture.php) and the Shaw Prize website (http://www.shawprize.org/ or http://www.shawprize.org/en/shawprize2009/lecture/index.html) on or before the day of the lecture.

Live Webcast
Date: Oct 8. 2009
Time: 17:00 - 18:00 HKT (09:00-10:00 GMT)


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Organisational Associates:

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