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News Updates » 17 October 2009


What a year it has been!

How’s your IYA been? Here in Calgary we’ve been riding high on one great event after another. As I think everyone has found, the public acceptance of the Year of Astronomy and the appetite for things astronomical has been outstanding. We’ll easily double our projected attendance by the time we’re done at the end of the year.

But we’re not planning on being done. The great thing about IYA is that it has proven the success of astronomy outreach events, so much so that our local organizing groups — the science centre, the university observatory, and the local astronomy club — are planning to keep going through 2010 with a similar schedule of cooperative events that take astronomy to the public.

Galileo Live!

In 2009 one of our major IYA programs in Canada was a live stage play and planetarium show, written here in Calgary by the TELUS World of Science and staged elsewhere in Canada at three other planetariums. Galileo Live! featured a live actor on stage performing the role of Galileo, with the recorded voice of Galileo’s daughter filling in the story. The show was a great success here in Calgary and did as well, if not better, in attendance as the large format “IMAX” films that were also playing in our dome theatre. We got lots of compliments on it. For kids, seeing a live performer was a novelty — and even young children were quiet and attentive all through the show. With Galileo we had a character, one of the few in science, that everyone knew, and who had a tale to tell that had all the right elements of a moving personal story.

Milky Way Week

At the outset, we were all a little worried that 2009 didn’t offer a lot of outstanding astronomical events to attract the public. But we didn’t need them. To most people, just seeing the Moon, or Saturn (even with its rings nearly edge-on) was enough. Along those lines, in August we staged a whole week of dark-sky viewing we billed as Milky Way Week. Come out and see the Milky Way! — for most people it is an exotic and rarely seen sight in the sky. And was it popular! The media hooked onto the week and gave us great PR. As a result, the University of Calgary’s Rothney Astrophysical Observatory was swamped with hundreds of visitors each night, even till 2 a.m. in the middle of the week. The response took us all by surprise. Though after a week of public nights till 2 a.m. we were all a little beat. Next year we’ll cut it back to just a “Milky Way Weekend” at best!

Our Galileo Telescope

One of the big hits of our local star parties for the public has been the presence of one of our Galileo replica telescopes, a working reproduction of Galileo’s first 20x telescope that he used to make the observations for his 1610 book Sidereal Messenger. Yes, the field of view is tiny, but we’ve found people are able to look through it just fine. If you move your eye around you can see the entire Moon, just not all at once. We set up the replica in tandem with a modern refractor so people can compare old and new views of the Moon and Jupiter. It certainly gives people an appreciation of how remarkable Galileo’s first observations were — “He must have had great eyesight!” is the usual remark. This wonderful telescope, built for us by SciTech Antiques, provides everyone with true “Galileo moments,” the goal of our Canadian IYA programs. Indeed, the nationwide goal was 1,000,000 people participating in astronomy programs this year and experiencing their own “Galileo moments.” Looks like we’ll surpass that handily by New Year’s Eve. (See for the tally.)