IYA2009 Updates

This is the golden age of astronomy, interview by Catherine Cesarsky (IAU President)

9 January 2009

Catherine Cesarsky : This is the golden age of astronomy

© UNESCO/ Michel Ravassard

Catherine Cesarsky, emeritus research director at the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and researcher at the Paris Observatory, has been the president, since 2006, of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which launched the International Year of Astronomy (2009).

Interview by Pierre Gaillard, Bureau of Public Information, UNESCO 

What is the purpose of astronomy? 

Astronomy is the science that allows humanity to try to answer questions it has always asked. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Are we alone in the universe? Using scientific means, we try to answer these questions, to understand how the universe works, how the universe came into being, along with its galaxies, stars and planets. To know if there are other planets in the universe and if they resemble ours. And, in a while, we will probably try to find out if they are inhabited by living beings, maybe even made of cells as we are. 

How is astronomy faring today? 

This the golden age of astronomy, thanks in large part to great advances in technology. Astronomy is a science that uses technology to the maximum and makes it advance as well, always going to the extremes of electronics, optics and mechanics. 
Recent advances allow for methods of observation far superior to those we had in the past. For a long time, we studied only nearby galaxies that we call our near universe. Now we have much more sensitive telescopes and instruments, allowing us to see sources that are weaker. Usually, these sources are weaker because they are simply far away. And when we observe a galaxy that is very far away, since light takes a very long time to reach us, we see the galaxy as it was when it emitted the light that we are receiving. Today, we think that the universe is around 13.6 billion years old. We are able to observe galaxies that are barely younger than the universe. 

What new advances does astronomy hold for coming years? 

We are currently experiencing the first discoveries of galaxies that already existed very early on in the life of the universe. For the moment, we are discovering a few: the brightest. Later, with even more sensitive instruments, we will be able to understand how they were created, if they resembled the galaxies as they are now. We will be able to study their properties, which for me is something very interesting. We are also in the middle of precisely working out cosmological parameters, those that govern the expansion of the universe, its creation at the time of the Big Bang. There as well, we have a lot of potential progress. Finally, there are extra-solar planets that we began to discover a bit more than ten years ago because of their indirect effects. Now we know a few hundred. We know better and better how to find ones that resemble Earth, and soon we will study their characteristics. 

Have all these developments changed the profession of the astronomer? 

The day-to-day work of an astronomer has nothing to do with what it used to be. We have essentially two types of observational astronomy: astronomy on the ground and in space. It takes a long time to develop instruments for space, they must be perfect, we cannot afford to make any mistakes. Just proposing and carrying out an instrument project takes 15 years. The instrument is then taken on board a satellite and, to explore the solar system, another eight to ten years may be required before the probe reaches its destination. It takes a lot of patience! 
And astronomers who carry out their observation on the ground use telescopes that no longer have anything to do with those of our predecessors. We now have telescopes with diameters of eight to ten metres and we are studying new ones with diameters in the order of 30m, and even 40m and more. Astronomers are no longer sat in front of their telescope, in an ice-cold dome, like in the past: with one eye glued on the star to make sure it does not leave the field. They now work in front of computers and do everything through remote control. 
We are no longer satisfied with just visible astronomy. Between the ground and space, we scrutinize all wavelengths, from radio waves to gamma rays, which give us a much more complete view. 

What will the International Year of Astronomy achieve? 

The International Year of Astronomy was invented by the International Astronomical Union and - fortunately - UNESCO joined us very quickly! Our goal is to share with the rest of the world the wonder we feel as astronomers, faced with the mysteries of the universe. 
We want all countries in the world - many of which have already created programmes - to get involved. And we want the public, the widest possible public, to be able to take part. By the end of the year, we would like everyone on Earth to have spent at least a short while with their attention turned to the sky. Or at least to have read something on the most recent discoveries, or reflected on our position in the universe.

Original source: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=44276&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html


Happy Astronomy Year, speech by Dr. Zadeh (Iranian Deputy President in Sci&Tech Affairs)

8 January 2009

Happy Astronomy Year

Message of Dr.Sadegh Vaez Zadeh,

Iranian Deputy President in scientific and technology affairs 

Science of astronomy has been practiced to answer human countless questions about our universe. Advancement in this science depends on modern instruments; therefore astronomy became propulsion for new technologies and improved other related sciences. Astronomy also developed some of the greatest scientific instruments such as huge optical telescopes, radio telescopes, solar observatories, satellites and remote sensing systems.

The year 2009 named as International Year of Astronomy to admire role of astronomers and remind people about effects of this science on society and culture and its role on education and general collaboration, specially in young generation. 400 years after first telescopic observation of sky by Galileo now more than 130 countries participated in IYA2009.

Most affirmation in this year will be on astronomy as a global scientific activity and in the path of global peace. Scientists and fans of astronomy made most great astronomical network and working together as a family and try to answer some of the most fundamental questions of mankind.

Our beloved county, Iran, participated in this event beside other countries. Thinking about creation of the sky objects has been advised by holy Quran and this science (astronomy) has high value in Persian culture and history. History of science witnessed valuable activities of Persian and Muslim astronomers during the golden age of astronomy in Islamic civilization. 

750 years after founding the Maragha observatory by Khaje nasir - al din Toosi, astronomy became one of the most active and vast science in the world.

Although after Toosi and Sufi Razi and their observatories, Iran was far from frontline of astronomy but after Islamic revelation and after 8 centuries hard works of Iranian scientists, now Iran is going to back to the glory in astronomy.

The Iran National Observatory (INO) is under construction in one of the best observing sites of Iran. Like other developing country our future plan is not just about observing but also developing other modern science and technologies which during the recent 20 years our society witnessed increasing in these fields.

After completing the INO project - which is passing its starting phases - Iran will be the host of one of the most powerful telescopes of the region and will develop other related science and technologies. After centuries, astronomy in Iran is going to be one of the most active scientific fields by the year of 2026 - the year that Iran national development script predicated high development in the country.

I would like to congratulate this valuable year to all astronomers and researchers.

Original message published at Jam-e-Jam Daily Newspaper on January 1st.


Astronomy can foster development

8 January 2009

Strengthening astronomy in poor nations can help promote socio-economic development, says South African IYA2009 SPoC and Developing Astronomy Globally Cornerstone Project Chair, Kevindran Govender. Read more here:http://www.scidev.net/en/opinions/astronomy-can-foster-development-1.html

Science Communication Workshop for IYA2009 Nodes

7 January 2009

Science Communication Workshop for IYA2009 Nodes

Organised by ESConet - European Science Communication Network and IYA2009 Secretariat

25 - 27 March 2009

Dubrovnik , Croatia



As our world grows ever more complex and the pace of scientific discovery and technological change quickens, the global community of professional astronomers needs to communicate more effectively with the public. This need and challenge is even more pressing now, when the world celebrates the 400th anniversary of the first use of the telescope by Galileo and the International Year of Astronomy 2009. With this in mind, ESConet - European Science Communication Network, kindly agreed to organise a science communication a special workshop IYA2009 Nodes.

This workshop is designed to give SPoCs the skills and confidence to interact with the media, engage with ordinary citizens, and to advise and persuade policy-makers.

The workshop will be held in the Centre for Advanced Academic Studies in the beautiful city of Dubrovnik on Croatia's Adriatic coast, from the 25th to the 27th of March 2009 (dates to be confirmed). 

Your accommodation will be covered by ESConet's EC funding for FP7 EU-eligible countries: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/who_en.html#countries

The structure of the workshop will be as follows:

Workshop timetable (all sessions ~2 hours)

Day 1 - 25 March

  •          Morning: Trainees arrive
  •          Afternoon Introductions; Who are you communicating with and why?
  •          Evening:  Media writing: lecture; start practical

Day 2 - 26 March

  •          Morning 1: Media writing practical
  •          Morning 2: Talking to the media: lecture; feedback on press releases
  •          Afternoon: Talking to media: interviews
  •          Evening: Feedback on interviews; How the media cover science

Day 3 - 27 March

  •          Morning 1: Public science on the web: lecture; start practical
  •          Morning 2: Public science on the web: lecture; start practical
  •          Afternoon: Feedback on web practical; Science in culture
  •          Evening: Trainees depart

The workshop will be available for 15 to 20 participants. Priority will be given do Single Points of Contact (or delegates appointed by them) from European Countries and Single Points of Contact from European Organisational Nodes.

The SPoCs should send the following information to iya2009@eso.org before 31 January 2009:

  •          Name:
  •          Country:
  •          Address:
  •          Email address:


Overview of the modules

Basic science communication skills have very wide applicability, from scientific journals and conferences all the way through to giving talks to school students. ESConet Trainers make use of a "scenario approach", in which the researchers to be trained are put into a number of situations in which they will be expected to communicate with lay, but intelligent, audiences. In particular, ESConet stresses the importance of communication with and through the mass media in order to provide basic training in structured and well-focussed communication. These basic science communication workshops consist of a number of modules, most of which have practical activities. Feedback sessions are built into all of the practical modules, and further feedback will be given as required, after the workshops. The following modules are delivered:


1. Who are you communicating with and why

Before embarking on any communications activity, it is vital to ask: who is your audience, and why are you communicating with them? For any science communication activity to be successful, it is important to understand the specific characteristics of the audience that may shape how people relate to science. So the first section of this module looks at what we know about European citizens and their attitudes to science, making use of the Eurobarometer surveys, among other information sources. The second part of this module presents the reasons why lay people need and seek scientific information, using the "uses and gratifications" approach from communication theory. For both sections there are short exercises: you will be asked to introduce yourself, outline your experience in communicating with the media and lay audiences, and say what your particular motives are for being involved in science communication.

2. Writing for the media

If you publish in high profile journals or have to make an important announcement or conference presentation, you may often be asked to provide information for a press release. You may, of course, leave the writing of this release entirely to your institution's press office. But, increasingly, researchers themselves are being asked to play a part in formulating what goes out to the media, to ensure accuracy and to highlight the relevance, novelty etc. of what they are doing. The press release is a very disciplined, formulaic piece of writing designed to fit closely to what news journalists have to write on a daily basis, and to answer a few very basic questions: who, what, where, why, when and how. So this module provides you with the skills required to prepare a press release about your own research. You will be given an introduction to news values that you can apply in your own press release writing, and taken through examples of press releases that have successfully generated media coverage. The module engenders good written communication practices that may be widely applicable, including in a purely research setting, such as a scientific journal or conference poster.

3. Talking to the media

This module introduces you to the various forms and uses of the media interview in which scientists may be involved, and involves participants in a practical simulation of a media interview. You will be asked about your experiences and expectations of media interviews. You will be advised on preparing for media interviews, underlining the importance of clear focus on key points, and of anticipating the possible lines of questioning. You will be interviewed by media professionals in one or more settings. The default setting is the t.v. or radio interview in a studio setting for live broadcast or recording. Other possibilities are: interviews on the telephone for radio (live) or newspaper; extended interviews for magazine; interview on-camera in non-studio location; presentation to media at a press conference. Along with the trainers and other workshop participants, you will have the opportunity to review the interview performances, offering opportunity for peer and self-critique.

4. Public science on the web

This module examines the various forms and uses of the web as a medium of public science communication. You will review critically selected examples of science web sites, aiming to identify elements of good and bad practice, and to establish criteria for effective sites. You will undertake supervised exercises to review critically selected science web sites and to produce an outline of a web page or pages about the project, programme or institution to which you belong. You will be introduced to techniques such as blogging, and other sites, such as the social networking site Facebook. Tutors and participants will review together the pages produced. You will be asked to keep in touch with the trainers and undertake some follow-up exercises, to be undertaken in the following weeks.

5. How the media cover science

There is much anecdotal evidence of scientists experience difficulties with journalists and broadcasters when it comes to popularizing their work: inaccuracies, oversimplifications, removal of qualifying statements, over-emphasising controversy etc. Much of the uneasiness between the worlds of research and the media is due to mutual unfamiliarity. This module, however, is designed to increase your familiarity with the world of the media. The module presents an overview of the main features of media presentation of science and technology issues. It reviews the key findings of long-term studies of media coverage of science and technology, tries to highlight the dominant trends across time, the main differences across the diverse media (TV, press, radio) and presents some particularly significant case studies.

6. Science in culture

By the end of an intensive, two-day workshop, you will have been exposed to a great deal of practical activity and detailed information. So it is useful to reflect on what has been learned and put it into a wider context. This module provides a useful framework for doing this: the public representation of science is the result of a combination of a great multiplicity and variety of factors, the origins of which are difficult to trace. This module provides a brief introduction to some of those factors, and aims to generate a final discussion on why science communication is important at a number of levels. In short, it reinforces the lessons learned in the workshop by emphasising the context and importance of science communication.


Out-of-this-world astronomy ads debut on Toronto transit

7 January 2009

University of Toronto astronomers are giving the sun, the moon and the stars to riders of Toronto public transit (the TTC) this month with a series of high-impact ads that promote the celestial science as part of 2009's International Year of Astronomy.

Three thousand of the colourful, thought-provoking ads will appear in buses, subways and streetcars as part of an innovative campaign to make the other-worldly science more relevant to earth dwellers.

"The cosmos is not something that's untouchable or far away," says campaign organizer Ray Jayawardhana, Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics and associate professor at the University of Toronto. "It's all around us and we're intimately connected to it. So, we want to remind people about those connections as we kick-off the International Year of Astronomy."

The new transit ads draw clear links between the science of astronomy and everyday life. One highlights the fact that our days are getting longer thanks to tides caused by the moon, while another points out that a small fraction of the television static is actually caused by the afterglow from the origin of the universe, otherwise known as the "Big Bang." The same designs also feature in 50,000 bookmarks, to be distributed at a variety of astronomy outreach events throughout the year. The TTC ads and the bookmarks all point to a website - www.coolcosmos.net - that will explain the interesting science behind them through podcasts and lively articles.

"We're trying to bring astronomy into the daily conversation, to foster science as an integral part of human culture," says Jayawardhana. "We also want to share with everyone the excitement of world-class astronomy research happening right here in Toronto, at places like U of T's Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics."

For more information, please contact:
Prof. Ray Jayawardhana


The Universe - Yours to Discover in Prague, Czech Republic

7 January 2009

7th January 2009
Old Town Square, Prague

09:00 - 18:00 Astronomical tent with an exhibition, telescopes and demonstrations

15:00 - 15:40 Opening of the International Year of Astronomy 2009
Old Town Square, Prague
moderator: Jan Palouš
Apostols and bells
Trombone trio
Address by European Commissioner J. Poto?nik
Address by the President of the International Astronomical Union C. Cesarsky
Address by representatives of the Government of the Czech Republic
Address by the President of the Academy of Sciences V. Pa?es
Trombone trio

18:30 - 18:50 Opening of the exhibition at Piazzeta next to the National Theatre in Prague
Introduction by the president of the International Astronomical Union C. Cesarsky
Address by the president of the Academy of Sciences V. Pa?es
Address by the directorof the National Theatre O. ?erný


The new web site of the 100 Hours of Astronomy Cornerstone Project is now online.

3 January 2009

The new web site of the 100 Hours of Astronomy Cornerstone Project is now online.  This new site has new content and features.  More importantly, the new site provides the capability for many new features as IYA2009 begins and we all prepare for the 100 Hours of Astronomy in April.

There is new information on each of the global events, including the opening event, the live science center webcast, the live 24-hour research observatory webcast and the 24-hour global star party.  Much more will be added as planning continues.

A new Resources section has the latest information pack, logos of various types for your use, five new posters that can downloaded and printed small as handouts or large as posters with spaces for information on your event and seven how-to guides for planning and conducting public star parties.  The information pack will be updated as planning continues, new posters will be created and many more how-to guides will be added to encourage everyone with a telescope to hold a public observing event during the 24-hour global star party.  More types of resources will be added as well.

While we are very pleased to have the new web site available, this is just the beginning.  Within the next week some essential features will become active.  Registration of events and several methods to search the events database and display the results.  A new forum will become active allowing you to ask questions and provide feedback, discuss similar types of events with other participants around the world and find collaborators for your projects.  An FAQ will also be available within the week.

More information, features and resources will continue to be added for some time.  If you have questions, comments or suggestions about what the site should include please feel free to write to the project coordinator Jennie McCormick at farmcoveobs@xtra.co.nz.  Feel free to write to me as well at the address below concerning any other issues.

Each significant addition to the site will be announced on this mailing list as it becomes available.  Jennie McCormick's newsletter will also continue at greater intervals.

IYA2009 is now one day old in most of the world.  The celebration is just beginning, and excitement is building toward the 100 Hours of Astronomy.  To see how those of us on the 100HA team feel visit our new web site to see the great (and real; no Photoshop!) image captured by Paul Moss of New Zealand.  It's going to be a grand worldwide party!    

More information: www.100hoursofastronomy.org

Welcome to IYA2009

3 January 2009


The International Year of Astronomy 2009 has officially begun! It literally started with a bang for residents of the Brazilian city Rio de Janeiro, as a grand fireworks display was held in honour of the year, with explosions in the shapes of stars, comets, and even planets! But astronomy-themed events haven't been limited to any one location. IYA2009 is a global endeavour, and activities already occurring reflect that.

The Dawn of IYA2009 ensured that the general public were in no doubt as to the theme of the year. Countless astronomers around the world took to the streets, allowing people to safely observe the Sun, and also learn about IYA2009. The Cornerstone Project Cosmic Diary also launched on New Year's Day. Over 50 professional astronomers, including those from well-known institutions such as NASA, ESO, ESA and JAXA have begun blogging, letting the public see what life as a scientist is really like. And the eagerly anticipated 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast project has begun in earnest, with the first show already on the site.

The wider media has been quick to pick up on IYA2009, with articles appearing in all kinds of publications and blogs. For example, the very popular site Astronomy Picture of the Day adopted the IYA2009 logo as its emblem for 1 January, and the latest issue of Nature journal is dedicated to IYA2009.

This is just a small selection of events held on the very first day of IYA2009. As an indication of things to come, the remaining days will be a great success!


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Organisational Associates:

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