Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We Are All Astronomers – 2009 International Year of Astronomy

Human have look to the stars for freedom, faith, wishes and destiny. It is in our fiction and our non-fictional tales of survival. May 2009 has a been a great month for star gazing and thoughts about galaxies beyond sight. And no, I’m not referring to a certain Paramount movie franchise reboot

In space the main story is the successful repairs to the Hubble Telescope. Not only is it a great month for astronomers but it is a great year for Astronomy. This is the 400 anniversary of the invention of the telescope. In addition, 2009 has been designated as the International Year of Astronomy.  Let’s talk about actual space, the infinite frontier.

Astronomers That Plotted The Paths

Annie Jump Cannon via Smithsonian Archives

This is Annie Jump Cannon. At the Smithsonian Photo blog I learned that:

“Annie Jump Cannon systematically categorized the hundreds of thousands of stars shown on the photo plates taken at the Observatory to create her own special classification system, which is still in use today. Cannon’s colleague, Henrietta Leavitt, devised a theory that helped to determine the size of the cosmos and discovered 2,400 variable stars—about half of the total number of variable stars known at that time!”

Despite the best efforts of academic educators of the time, there were women who made significant contributions to Astronomy. Annie was one of those women. A.J. Cannon was one the first persons to figure out a way to classify stars and objects in space.

The San Diego Supercomputer Center has a biographical page on Ms. Cannon and her tremendous contributions to astronomy, and, as a graduate of Wellesley College, there is certainly a biographical tribute page to this important alumna.

Annie Jump Cannon help to show the path for contemporary astronomers like Amanda Bauer at AstroPixie.  Amanda has been keeping her eyes on the Hubble repair mission.  Amanda will be participating in the “We Are Astronomers” project as well as speaking about Astronomy in the United Kingdom.  Amanda has posted a teaser project short video that shows the changes in human perception about the makings of the universe narrated by David Tennant.

Nicole and her co-workers at One Astronomer’s Noise were also bonding to their monitors watching the Hubble repairs and reflecting on how modern astronomers have to adjust their perceptions of the universe with each new discovery:

From this, we can improve our models of galaxy formation and evolution.  This is important since, after all, galaxies make stars and stars have planets and planets have us!

400 Years of Watching The Skies

As I mentioned at the top of the post, this is the 400th anniversary of the Telescope, The star gazers have been busy celebrating and documenting the experience. One of the places you have to visit is the 400 Years of the Telescope – A Journey of Science, Technology and Thought. This is a video that has aired on PBS; this is the trailer for the video:

The website has hours of video about astronomers, their influences and their vision of the future. If you can’t view the video that is ok, they have transcripts available on the site.  This is a portion of a transcript o Catherine Cesarsky on How She Became An Astronomer:

I was studying physics in the University of Buenos Aires and I was very lucky that at the crucial year a new professor came and he was in astronomy. I decided to work with him and became an astronomer and I have been thankful ever since. I always loved to look at the sky and I was always interested in knowing, but no, I didn’t think from early on that I would be an astronomer. It happened.

I think astronomers all over the world in the last decade were realizing that the next important project in astronomy was going to be a very large, millimeter, sub-millimeter interferometer. So the Japanese started one project, the Europeans got together and studied another and the Americans were in fact the most advanced in their studies. Eventually we realized that it was much better to all get together and make a very, very big one. So we got together, we called it ALMA: Atacama Large Millimeter Array, which also means soul in Spanish so it’s a really beautiful name. The Americans and the Europeans first agreed to do it; we signed the agreement, actually I signed with the head of the NSF on the 24th of February 2003 and the Japanese joined later and they brought with them also Taiwan, so now we have these three parties for the project of the price tag of about $1 billion.

There are some astronomers who have fallen in love with their topic and it comes out as a passion to teach or convey what they know. Alice Enevoldsen at Alice’s AstroInfo  uses her blog to answer beginner questions about astronomy. What to know what an actual sunspot is? Go ask Alice, or rather read her explanation.

2009 International Year of Astronomy

This is a year long celebration and many countries of the world are participating; you can find out if your country has an informational node that indicated participation in the festivities and country specific contributions to astronomy.

http://www.astronomy2009.org/The activities are not only happening on a international or national level. It can be a close as your media player. If you don’t have time to read or watch the videos (and you should) then I recommend that you download a podcast or two from Astronomy Cast. 

Star Stryder (aka Dr. Pamela Gay) and the other collaborators work the auditory canal through Galaxies, Gamma Ray Astronomy and How Old Is The Universe? Dr. Pamela has her own blog and when she isn’t teaching she is trying to locate all of the Astro-Twitters, which is a great way to network and check out what other folks are doing in astrological fields.

This is just a pebble in one of Saturn’s rings on Astronomy blogs and Astronomical events occurring this year. I hope that you will check out the above blogs and websites. If you know of others pop them in the comments.  And for those of you jonesing for even more, psst…100 Hours of Astronomy.

This post originally appeared on BlogHer where I am a Contributing Editor.


  1. Hi Gena!

    Thank you so much for noticing the blog post on Annie Jump Cannon at THE BIGGER PICTURE. I came across her photo by chance in our Smithsonian Flickr Commons stream, and immediately was taken by her incredible story. There were so many brilliant (and under-recognized and under-paid!) women working at the Harvard Observatory during that time period.

    Also, I appreciate the other links on Cannon and for continuing to highlight some of the great things going on during IYA2009!

  2. I have read ALOT of history of astronomy / astronomers who've made astronomy what it is and thid BY FAR beyond what I can say in words is the most comprehensive Well done said etc etc .., beautifully written piece i have ever seen.

    Hard work pays off and a video to boot !

    GREAT work