International Year of Astronomy 2009 kicks off January 15
The International Year of Astronomy for 2009 starts on January 15th, and is a global effort by the International Astronomical Union to get all citizens of the world to think about their place in the universe, and the impact that astronomy has on their lives.
This year is the 400th anniversary of the first recorded astronomical observations by Galileo through a telescope. The opening ceremony will be held in Paris this year.
In 1609 Galileo looked through a telescope up into the sky and wrote down what he saw. This was a very primitive telescope but he was able to see that four satellites orbit Jupiter and he also saw the phases of Venus. It was the beginning of the theory that the sun, and not the Earth, was the centre of the universe.
When the Vatican heard of these findings, they didn't like it very much . The Vatican held a strong belief that all things revolve around the Earth, and Galileo saying different was challenging their entire belief system. However, all is forgiven now and this year will mark the 400th anniversary of the beginning of that important find.
There will be events happening all around the world, and scientists are creating a new telescope so powerful that it can see even further than we have ever been able to see before.
The $3.5-billion James Webb Space Telescope, named after a key figure in the Apollo moon program, is being designed to see the first stars that formed in the universe; peer into cosmic dust clouds to observe the creation of planets; and gain new insights into the mysterious dark matter that is driving the movement of the galaxies.
At a cost of $130-million, the Canadian Space Agency is contributing two key pieces of hardware - a tunable filter imager, which can take pictures in specific wavelengths of light, and the all-important fine guidance sensor camera, which will keep the U.S. telescope on target as it takes pictures of the sky. The guide camera works by selecting a relatively bright star and keeping precise track of it. The 18 hexagonal panels that make up the main mirror have individual motors that can be adjusted multiple times per second, enabling the telescope to maintain a sharp focus.
The Webb is slated to launch in 2013, once the Hubble is taken down. It could change the way we think about the universe forever.