International Year of Astronomy

I was listening to All Things Considered Science Friday the other day, and they were doing a story on the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescopes, when it occurred to me that I haven’t said anything about the International Year of Astronomy which, naturally, is meant to commemorate Galileo. In honor, here are some fun facts about the first telescopes:

  1. Galileo didn’t invent the telescope. It was invented about a year earlier by a Flemish optician named Lipperhay. Galileo was, however, the first to use telescopes for astronomical observations. The chief selling point had previously been espionage and warfare.
  2. I visited Galileo’s place of “house arrest.” It’s not clear what he had to complain about. It seemed pretty swanky.
  3. Within the space of less than a year, Galileo observed:
    • That Venus had phases (suggesting that it was illuminated by the sun) and varied in size throughout the year, meaning that it was different distances from us and we couldn’t be at the center of its orbits.
    • That Jupiter had moons that went around it just like our own moon went around the earth. It’s hard to think that the earth is particularly special under those circumstances.
    • He also looked at the moon. You should, too. It looks really cool through a telescope.

So, I thought I’d give a few IYA/Philadelphia astronomy events:

  1. Drexel hosts a monthly public observing night. They’re generally held the 1st Wednesday of the month (start times to be determined by the season). Check out what you can see in the Philadelphia night sky.
  2. The Franklin (Institute) still has their Galileo exhibit going on (in addition to a Star Trek exhibit which just opened a few weeks ago). You can see one of only two extant Galileo telescopes. This one was made in 1610.
  3. If you are an astronomer, or a science teacher, please consider getting involved in Project Astro. Basically, we’ll be having a workshop later this year which will be open to teachers and astronomy mentors. The astronomer will then give periodic visits to the teacher’s classroom to do projects with students. If you have any questions, or would like to get involved, send me an email.

Enjoy the remainder of the IYA!


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