The International Year of Astronomy

Back in the late 1950s, the world scientific community focused a yearlong effort on the geosciences, a global movement known simply as IGY-the International Geophysical Year. During the 1980s, a famous pop song, titled "IGY", was recorded by Donald Fagen of the jazz-rock band Steely Dan. This song toasted the optimistic future envisioned at the time of IGY.

Now it's time to welcome a brand new global, yearlong science program; this time the focus is astronomy and it's called IYA-the International Year of Astronomy. It's a year that may also produce some new discoveries in the field, so stay tuned.

The year 2009 was proclaimed as the IYA by several international organizations including the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the United Nations' UNESCO agency.

The year marks the four-hundredth anniversary of Galileo Galilei's first use of a telescope for astronomical observation, so you can see why it's an ideal moment to celebrate and focus international research on the heavens. It's also the year for you to discover the hobby of backyard astronomy. For a modest investment in a small telescope, you can begin exploring deep space from the comfort of your own backyard. With just a few basic astronomy books and a simple star map, you can navigate around the night sky like a pro. You can also seek out other enthusiasts and share your observing times.

So, 2009 promises to shape up to be a planetwide festival of astronomy-it's a good time for lapsed amateur astronomers to dust off their Christmas-gift telescopes and begin an observing regimen; it's also a good time for newcomers to purchase their first telescope and discover the wonders of the heavens.

"Astronomy is one of the oldest basic sciences," said Catherine Cesarsky, president of the IAU. "It continues to have a profound impact on our culture and is a powerful expression of the human intellect."

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