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Part 1: The Solar System and the Universe - Yours to Explore
Color image of book written by Johannes Kepler.
Johannes Kepler shared the first of his three laws of planetary motion in Astronomia Nova, published in 1609. He and Galileo Galilei laid the foundation of modern astronomy.

This is the first of a two-part article on the 2009 International Year of Astronomy.

Picture yourself joined together with astronomers and other cosmic-minded people sharing in the excitement of space, exploring cosmic treasures, pondering your own place in the Universe, and celebrating astronomy events all over the planet Earth. You've just imagined the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA), and you can be part of this inspiring celebration.

A yearlong celebration marking the 400th anniversary of modern astronomy, the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA) commemorates the Earth-changing astronomical work of Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler.

Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei.

In the year 1609, Galileo made his very first observations of our solar system through a primitive, yet revolutionary telescope. This invention has changed the fundamental perspective on human beings' place in the Universe. This is also the 400th anniversary of Johannes Kepler's publication Astronomia Nova, in which he shared with the world the first two of his three laws of planetary motion. Together, these innovative thinkers built the foundation for modern astronomy.

The organizers of IYA want people to "rediscover their place in the universe through the sky." Starting with the opening ceremonies at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Headquarters in Paris, France on January 15th and 16th, 2009, IYA will help to raise awareness and interest among the general public about astronomy and related subjects.

Nearly every culture on Earth throughout history has looked up at the sky and wondered about the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars. The study of these celestial bodies provokes some of the most basic human questions: How did the universe begin? Where did life come from? How will it all end? Are there others out there like us? Modern astronomy, made possible by the invention of the telescope, has enabled us to begin to understand what our Universe is and to answer these fundamental questions. The wonders of our Universe are part of our common heritage and IYA celebrates our connection with the extended world around us. Star parties and other astronomical events will take place by neighborhood, country and region, as well as internationally.

The theme of IYA is 'The Universe, Yours to Discover!' UNESCO and the International Astronomical Union (IAU) have joined together to create IYA in order to bring the public at large a sense of how astronomy has enriched all human societies. UNESCO is using hundreds of IYA events worldwide to inform the public about the latest discoveries in astronomy, as well as the essential role that the study of our Universe plays in science education.

Our differences and national boundaries disintegrate when we look into the night sky. It unites humanity and offers a sense of wonder and awe that all the people of Earth have shared for centuries. You don't have to be a scientist or engineer to enjoy the beautiful images that telescopes have captured of our Universe. Images from space have a magical appeal. . A celestial image is worth a billion words-- it shows us places and things that we never knew existed. For that reason, NASA, as an IYA organizational associate, has funded a project called From the Earth to the Universe. This showcase of images from space will be positioned in places that normally don't feature astronomy images or offer educational material about astronomy. According to the website, the project will "bring these images to a wider audience in non-traditional venues such as public parks and gardens, art museums, shopping malls and metro stations." Images were chosen by a group of outreach specialists and astronomers who believe that science should be as easy to access as public works of art.

Color image of nebula.
The Bubble Nebula is an expanding shell of glowing gas surrounding a hot, massive star in our Milky Way Galaxy.

Nearly 400 years ago, Galileo discovered and mapped four of Jupiter's largest moons by inventing the telescope. This instrument is the single most revolutionary development in the history of astronomy. For thousands of years, astronomers had to rely on their eyes to unravel the mysteries of the Universe. The telescope unveiled a wealth of astronomical riches, and led to a dramatic increase in knowledge about the wider world we live in.

For centuries, astronomers around the world have worked together to discover the cosmos. Nowadays scientists use orbiting spacecraft to discover and share the wonders of the cosmos with the world. The Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra, Spitzer, have allowed us to see things impossible to see from Earth. NASA's robotic explorers use advanced telescopes to bring home images of the far reaches of our Solar system and beyond, invigorating the imaginations of all of us. Recently, the Hubble Space Telescope succeeded in snapping images of planets outside of our Solar System, bringing us ever closer to understanding the origins of our Universe and what other possibilities exist in the Universe..

Continue to Part 2.

Last Updated: 2 February 2011

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Last Updated: 2 Feb 2011