When Galileo first peered through his telescope in 1609 and reported back what he saw, people thought he was crazy. The Catholic church dubbed him a heretic and Galileo spent the last years of his life under house arrest. But that 17th-century dreamer was onto something - something big; something bigger than can even be comprehended. He peered into the first inklings of the great unknown: space. Humans have spent the 400 years since taking steps to better understand the vast universe that surrounds us.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, dubbed 2009 the "International Year of Astronomy" in honor of the 400th anniversary of Galileo's discovery. Under the banner, "The Universe, Yours to Discover," the UN organization aims to honor past space exploration and to promote future space exploration - whether by rocket, or by the telescope in your den! However you can access just a glimpse of the universe - that great unknown that Galileo saw - the International Year of Astronomy is meant to encourage you.
"The citizens of the world will rediscover their place in the universe," said Catherine Cesarsky, president of the International Astronomical Union, "and hear of wondrous discoveries in the making."
All This: It's Yours
Far from being just for astronauts and planetarium denizens, the whole universe belongs to all of us. That's the message of the International Year of Astronomy, its organizers say.
"People have always looked to the sky for answers to the questions, 'How did we get here?' and 'Why are we here?' The sky belongs to everybody. Astronomy is an instrument to promote peace and understanding among nations," said Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of UNESCO.
All Year Long
Astronomers from around the world gathered in Paris in January to kick off the International Year of Astronomy. The two-day kickoff ceremony featured Nobel prize winners, former astronauts, and other space experts. But anyone can be a space expert, the celebration's organizers say, just by using a telescope.
Find Your Place
Starting with Galileo's humble apparatus in the early 1600s, going all the way to the high-powered Hubble telescope of today, humans have always wanted to explore the stars. The International Year of Astronomy celebrates the telescope, and the way the instrument brings the vastness of the universe right into people's own homes. To honor the telescope, the organization produced several presentations on its Web site, www.astronomy 2009.org. Check it out for lots of information on how you can celebrate the stars!
Bring Space to Your Screen
As part of the celebration of astronomy, the Web site www.astronomy2009.us also launched the From Earth to the Universe project. In more than 40 countries around the world, the International Year of Astronomy is presenting images at public screenings from the high-powered telescopes stationed around the globe. You can even access some of the images right on your own computer by accessing the Web site, www.fromearthtotheuniverse.org. These beautiful photographs of stars and planets - compiled from the earth's most advanced satellite imagery - still spark the kind of human curiosity lighted in Galileo those 400 years ago.