The International Year of Astronomy kicks off here in the US tonight at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Long Beach, California. The opening ceremony will take place at the Long Beach Convention Center on Tuesday, January 6, in Exhibit Hall B, starting at 7:45 p.m. PST. The public is encouraged to attend. Can't make it to Long Beach? No problem because the ceremony will be broadcast live on the World Wide Web here.
The ceremony will feature a virtual "ribbon cutting" of the IYA2009 presence in the online community Second Life. This action will be initiated using light from the Pleiades star cluster sent over the Web from the Cincinnati Observatory, via the world's oldest telescope still in nightly use by the general public. Light from this famous star cluster (also known as the "Seven Sisters") takes approximately 400 years to reach Earth.
Therefore, the photons of light to be viewed tonight were emitted around the time Galileo first looked through his telescope. How cool is that? Back then Galileo was the first person to see—among other things—mountains and craters on the Moon, the four biggest moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus and countless faint stars in the Pleiades invisible to the unaided eye. One of the goals of the IYA is to get as many people as possible to look through a telescope. More on that in a later post.
The ceremony will conclude with the world premiere of a new high-definition PBS television documentary by Interstellar Studios, 400 Years of the Telescope, A Journey of Science, Technology and Thought, which was filmed at dozens of the world's greatest observatories. I haven't seen the film yet, but they did film at Palomar. Twice. According to their website the film will be shown on PBS on Friday April 10th (10 PM PT/ET, 9 PM CT/MT).
There is lots more going on and it will be all year long. Much more information on IYA2009 can be found at www.astronomy2009.us and www.astronomy2009.org.