Single Point of Contact

Prof. Tapio Markkanen
University of Helsinki
PO Box 14
FI-00014 Helsinki

Phone +358 9 1912 2335
Fax +358 09 1912 2952

At the end of 2006, a working group was set up in Finland for preparations of a programme strategy, and national and international events and projects of the International Year of Astronomy. The home base of the IYA 2009 Working Group the astronomical association Ursa. All relevant actors are represented or linked to the working group: TV and radio channels, newspapers and journals, science journalists and editors, school authorities and teachers’ organisations, and the Finnish Science Centre Heureka with about 400 000 visitors annually. These partners are important for communicating astronomy to the general public in a highly professional way. The providers of astronomical substance within the Working Group are professional astronomers at four Finnish universities and their astronomy departments, the Finnish National Committee of Astronomy, the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO, the Academy of Finland which despite its name is a typical research council agency, and relevant research institutions and scientific societies in Finland. High-tech industries are also involved.

Concerning communicating astronomy to the general public, especially young people in IYA 2009, we are going to exploit the extensive experience, human resources, and excellent reputation of  the Finnish astronomical association Ursa. Ursa was founded in 1921.  Today it has more than 13 000 members in a country of 5.2 million people. Ursa offers many services to its members and general public. A 76-page full-colour journal with seven issues a year is published; the circulation is about 17 000. Nowadays the journal can be bought at ordinary stationary shops. Ursa is an active publishing house with more than 100 published books by now from astronomy books for children to university textbooks. Many of them have been translated to English (e.g. Fundamental Astronomy, in co-operation with Springer-Verlag). Ursa produces astronomy material for different school levels to aid the teachers in their daily work. Ursa has several mobile inflatable planetaria and universe kits that can be ordered to school visits with a trained instructor. Their programmes are usually fully booked. Each month there is a public lecture free of charge in central Helsinki. Ursa actively participates in all public events, like book fairs, science festivals, annual national astronomy days, etc. Star parties are offered to people and school classes on clear nights at Ursa Observatory in the winter, sunspots and solar prominences are shown at weekends of the summer.

Through a definite and frequent information activity, Ursa has been able to build up its public reputation as a reliable, up-to-date, and interesting source of astronomical and related information in public media. That is rewarded by extensive public coverage by the media when ever Ursa comes out with a new activity or special event. On good things, one can not expect positive public interest overnight. A continuous and consequent policy over decades is necessary.  

There are 36 local or regional astronomy clubs and societies in Finland. Most of them have observatories with modern instrumentation. Even medium-size communities have granted generous financial support for observatory building projects. Active amateur and school groups have participated in international observing campaigns like the recent transits of Venus and Mercury, observing light curves of minor planets, occultations, supernova, meteor and aurora patrolling, etc. Ursa and the local societies combine advanced amateur activities, voluntary work and public information on astronomy. In 2009 we are going to exploit these experiences in networking.

The short description above gives an idea what kind existing networks of active partners and supporters, and paved roads of communication are going to be used for IYA 2009 activities and achieving its goals.

What about the contents and real actions? Many of the traditional actions and campaign already mentioned will be used. New books and articles will be released, planetarium programmes, lecture series for radio and programmes for the TV are prepared. Their themes will vary from history of astronomy and the world picture to modern cosmology and near earth objects. Youth camps will be arranged.  In January 2009, there will be the biannual Science Days in Helsinki. They are a five-day festival for the general public with lectures, debates, exhibitions, open house events, a night of the Sciences, all with full coverage in the press, radio and television. Astronomy and the universe will be central topics of the Science Days in 2009. Among the plans are for instance a travelling exhibition with hands-on experiments, release of a stamp or a set of stamps with an astronomical motive or theme. Projects and teaching aid packages are planned for the schools, enhanced with series of visiting lectures. A special theme is how to integrate hard sciences to arts, humanities and social subjects in school education. Here the extensive network of local societies and Ursa is of course essential. Along these lines there is a project which still is at its elementary phase but might turn into a great success. That is the plan to use the Helsinki metro as a scale model of the solar system and the universe beyond. The project will be a joint effort of the astronomers and the artists and students at the art universities in Helsinki.

As an example of international projects, let’s mention an international virtual doctoral school of ICT aided science education. The network is co-ordinated and managed by the University of Joensuu which has teacher education as one of its a main missions. The network is financially supported by the North-South partnership development programme of the Finnish government. In March 2007, the network is arranging the SciFest 2007, an event on science, environmental and technology education. The SciFest 2007 is sponsored by a large group of government and regional agencies, and industry. The SciFest 2007 has partners also in South Africa. The next SciFest will be arranged in 2009, and astronomy will be its theme. The enthusiastic African partners can give great potentials for concrete real-time observing campaigns because South Africa and Finland are in the same time zone. And in Africa the sky may be even clear which unfortunately seldom happens in Finland.



A set of Europa stamps (2 stamps) with a First Day cover
Released 6 May 2009
The set of two stamps presents the night sky with various celestial bodies above a horizon of a Finnish lake landscape.

Method of determining one's geographical position by simple means
Observing eclipses of Jupiter's moons for universal time. Dr. Hannu Karttunen (Univ. Turku) is finalising the programme.

Solar System model at Helsinki Metro
1 September to 30 September 2009
The showcases at each Metro station will explain about the bodies of the Solar System, its origin and development.

Organisational Associates:

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