Live from the AAS International Year of Astronomy Press Conference, part 1

The press conference is about to start. The topic of the press conference is the U.S. International Year of Astronomy program. Pamela is the lead for the New Media team, so she is representing the team as one of the four participants. The participants are:

-Doug Isbell, US IYA 2009 chair
-Steve Pompea, NOAO
-Connie Walker, NOAO
-Pamela, SIUE

The four panelists are sitting at an elevated table at the front of the room. I should mention that the International Year of Astronomy is a big deal here in Pasadena, home of Caltech – there are signs on Paseo Colorado, the main shopping area.

10:34 AM: The AAS’s Deputy Press Officer is introducing the Panel. Doug is described as the “SPOC” (pronounced Spock), the single point of contact for the U.S. program. Rick thanked Pamela for livecasting the press conference, and I do too. Thanks, Pamela!

10:36 AM: And so it begins, with Doug giving an overall introduction to the project. IYA has been endorsed by the United Nations, and 141 countries have active programs. One of the goals is to get millions of people to look through telescopes. Doug is also pointing out the International Secretary, Pedro Russo from ESO.

10:38 AM: Doug is talking about the IYA program. His slide has a screenshot of the U.S. House of Representatives endorsing a resolution in support of IYA. He also mentions 100 Hours of Astronomy, which many of you remember from the Zoonometer.

10:44 AM: Doug had an endearing typo on his slide – he listed the website as astronomy20009.org. Rick said, “Doug, we will not stick with this for 20,000 more years,” to great laughter, including Doug.

10:45 AM: Steve is now talking about the Galileoscope, a small telescope that has been built and is about to be sold. The design criterion for the telescope was that it must be able to see the rings of Saturn – from the beginning, they made all decisions with the rings of Saturn in mind. The Galileoscopes are now shipping, and are about to be sold for $15. These are small but high-quality telescopes, and $15 is an amazing price. Steve quotes Sky and Telescope in saying that they usually don’t recommend telescopes for under $200, but they were recommending this telescope for $15. It is a very cool project.

10:48 AM: There are 3 ways to use the Galileoscope – a 25x eyepiece, a 50x eyepiece, and a Galilean 17x eyepiece. The different lenses allow it to serve as an optics lab as well as a telescope. There are student activities called “In the Footsteps of Galileo” in which students make some of the same observations Galileo did, and also some activities on different types of lenses. He’s now showing a picture of the Moon that was taken through a Galileoscope, which is quite a good picture. And I should have mentioned earlier that Steve has a Galileoscope kit in front of him – I’ll try to post a picture of both the kit and the built telescope later.

10:55 AM: Next is Connie Walker from NOAO talking about Dark Skies programs, including the “Globe at Night” project, where volunteers make observations of the sky light levels and report them online. She says that about 2/3 of people in the U.S. cannot see the Milky Way.

10:57 AM: With all this in mind, Dark Skies was chosen as a cornerstone program of the U.S. IYA. The main project of the Dark Skies program is Globe @ Night (link coming soon). The program has been going on for a few years, but this has been their biggest year, with more than 15,000 observations taken. The average star magnitude reported is about 3 or 4 (more explanation of this coming soon).

11:02 AM: Connie is now giving an example of 3,400 measurements taken near the town of Granger, Indiana. They made a lego model of a map of their observations, where different colors of legos represented the faintest stars they could see from that spot. This is a very cool example of scientific visualization; I’ll try to find more details about it soon. Next, she’s showing examples from Norman, Oklahoma, where the program had the support of the mayor. There is a bright spot in the map – an area where it’s very hard to see the sky – that Connie says is the University of Oklahoma football stadium.

11:06 AM: For more information about dark skies, see http://www.darkskiesawareness.org

11:07 AM: Yay, Pamela is going next! Moving to a different thread.

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2 responses to “Live from the AAS International Year of Astronomy Press Conference, part 1”

  1. Thomas says :

    Onwards and upwards 🙂

  2. zeus2007 says :

    Sounds like lots of fun and a great gathering of knowledge.

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