It was 1609 when Galileo first turned a telescope on the heavens and made some startling discoveries: there are many more stars than we can actually see, and the planet Jupiter has moons that orbit it.
In honor of the 400th anniversary of the first astronomical use of the telescope, the United Nations has named 2009 the International Year of Astronomy (IYA).
You can participate by going outside to marvel at the stars, by looking up your local astronomy club and going to a star party, or, by reading books such as “Cosmic Catastrophes” (Cambridge University Press, 2007), by UT Astronomy Professor J. Craig Wheeler.
In “Cosmic Catastrophes,” Wheeler details the inner working of some of the heavens’ most violent explosions, including the exploding stars known as supernovae and the gamma-ray bursts. He also details how cosmologists are studying supernovae to better understand the expansion of the universe and its ultimate fate. The book includes illustrations by Tim Jones, art director for the university’s StarDate magazine.
If you’d like to see some of the books that forged the history of astronomy, check out the Ransom Center’s upcoming exhibit “Other Worlds: Rare Astronomical Works,” opening Sept. 2009.
The exhibit will feature one of the most important books in the history of science: “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium” (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) by Nicolas Copernicus, which controversially argued that the Earth and the planets orbit the sun. Also on display will be first editions by Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton.
The university also will celebrate the International Year of Astronomy with a state-wide speaker series. The McDonald Observatory is partnering with Texas A&M to bring astronomers from UT and A&M to venues across the state, including Austin, Amarillo, Brownsville, College Station, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Davis, Fort Worth, Houston, Laredo, Lubbock, Midland and San Antonio.
Find out more about IYA celebrations at http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/iya/.
By Rebecca Johnson
ShelfLife guest blogger Rebecca Johnson is the editor of StarDate magazine and leads media relations for McDonald Observatory at The University of Texas at Austin.