Filed under: People Looking at the Stars | Tags: 2009, Astronomy, Galileo, Galileoscope, International Year of Astronomy, planets, stars
Thanks to this week’s Special Guest Author, Iain B. (my husband)
2009 is the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), but not many people seem to know that… at least not yet.
This week will see the official launch of the IYA at an opening ceremony in Paris, France. I’m sure there will be grandiose projects such as expensive space probes doing marvellous things around alien worlds, and lots of pretty pictures on the news taken from observatories in exotic locations such as Tenerife and Hawaii (hmm, and how is it that the big telescopes always seem to be located at beautiful holiday destinations? Nice coincidence.)
But that’s not what I want to talk about here. No, I think the real success story of IYA2009 will be the Galileoscope.
2009 was chosen for the IYA because it marks the 400th anniversary of the day one Italian guy (Galileo) decided to take a pair of reading glasses (spectacles) and cut them up to make a special “looking glass” – then pointed it upward in search of God in the heavens. Well, he didn’t find God; but what he did find were several planets, including one that came with peculiar ears attached (Saturn and its rings.) Perhaps finding these celestial bodies–not the ones he had been looking for–hadn’t been his original intention. But it did lead to his assertion that, contrary to popular thought, the Earth circled around the Sun (and not vice versa), which really rankled the Pope at the time (Galileo was eventually placed under house arrest for his “heretical” views) and assured him a place in the history books.
Oh, of course Galileo wasn’t really the first to make or use a telescope; we’ll conveniently ignore the fact that a patent was filed in the Netherlands more than a decade previously. But every science needs a celebrity, so Galileo fits the role as well as anyone.
So yes, in 2009 we will celebrate his momentous act – not making a telescope or even finding the planets – no, the real celebration is the pivotal moment when Man was first able to look beyond the limits of his natural eyesight, and open his mind the great expanse of the universe.
It’s fitting, then, on this auspicious anniversary of its creation, that the Galileoscope has been reinvented. Only this time it’s not a crude telescope that would take weeks to build and provide only a dim image of the cosmos. No, this time it’s a do-it-yourself $20 kit that any school child can use to learn the basics of optics and astronomy. Once assembled, it is this inexpensive tool that has the potential to really change the world, by seeding an entire generation with the technology to look beyond themselves–beyond our small planet– at a time when the world perhaps needs it more than ever.
Now that’s something really worth a celebration.
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