Skip to main content


Mercury magazine

Summer 2008 - Volume 37, Number 3

Summer 2008 - Volume 37, Number 3

Table of Contents



[16] The Universe: Yours to Discover
These eight mini-articles describe a few of the many activities that will be available to educators and amateur astronomers during the IYA2009.

[32] Astronomy in the News
Mercury's volcanic surface, another red spot on Jupiter, and new views of the Milky Way -- these are some of the discoveries that have recently made news in the astronomical community.


[4] Editorial, Paul Deans
Five Months and Counting

[5] First Word, James G. Manning
A Personal Sky

[7] Astronomer's Notebook, Jennifer Birriel
Citizen Science

[9] Planetary Perspectives, Daniel D. Durda
Weekends at the Smithsonian

[10] Armchair Astrophysics, Christopher Wanjek
The Sun as a Dark Matter Factory

[11] Echoes of the Past, Katherine Bracher
90 Years Ago: An Eclipse Expedition

[12] Annals of Astronomy, Clifford J. Cunningham
Johann Wurm and the Missing Planet

[13] Education Matters, David Bruning
Who’s Your Hero?

[14] Societal Impact, Michael G. Gibbs et al
ASP's EPO in the IYA

[36] Society Scope

[40] Sky Sights, Paul Deans
The Sky of August, September, and October

[43] Reflections
Interacting Galaxies

The Universe: Yours to Discover

The following eight mini-features are articles that will appear (along with many others) in the forthcoming ASP Conference Series volume Gibbs, M., Barnes, J., Manning, J., & Partridge, B. (Eds.). (2008) Preparing for the 2009 International Year of Astronomy: Hands-on Symposium and Workshops. San Francisco: Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

The International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) will be a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture, highlighted by the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei.

The aim of the IYA is to stimulate worldwide interest, especially among young people, in astronomy and science under the central theme "The Universe, Yours to Discover."

Astronomer in the Classroom, Jennifer Oman
An innovative program uses the Web to connect astronomers and students.

From Earth to the Universe, Megan Watzke and Kimberley Kowal-Arcand
The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) project From Earth to the Universe (FETTU) will bring spectacular, multi-wavelength astronomical images to audiences in "non-traditional" venues. This will be accomplished by displaying these images in public parks, metro stations, art centers, and other locations across the country, in addition to more traditional science centers.

Our goal is to have the FETTU project appear in as many cities and towns as possible across the United States and beyond. FETTU is designed to be flexible to support the amount of funding and space at any given location. The organizers of FETTU will provide free digital files, appropriate captions, and information on production for up to 100 astronomical images.

However, we invite local organizers to add or subtract images as they see fit. The rest of this article describes the guidelines we have developed for this project, but we encourage any interested party to take the initiative to make FETTU work for you and your location.

Looking Through a Telescope During the IYA, Rick Fienberg
The goal is to give as many people as possible a look at the universe through a telescope.

The Galileoscope for the IYA2009, Stephen M. Pompea
A key moment in human intellectual history began when Galileo Galilei first turned his telescope skyward. For those of us who love astronomy, a similar moment occurred when we first looked through a telescope or binoculars.

Remember the first time you observed the Moon through a telescope and were amazed by the mountains and craters you saw? Or when you turned the scope to Jupiter and spotted cloud belts and the Galilean satellites? Or when you first viewed Saturn's rings?

Galileo was astonished when he pointed his homemade telescope toward the sky. For the IYA2009, we felt that millions of children worldwide should have the same opportunity, because observing through a telescope for the first time is a memorable experience that alters our view of the sky and our place in the universe.

The Galileoscope project arose out of a desire to combine the excitement of viewing through a small telescope with observations of the same objects that Galileo made. We have designed a high-quality refracting telescope kit that kids can use to conduct experiments in optics, assemble, and then observe the Moon and planets.

What Galileo Saw -- and More!, Simon J. Steel
An online robotic telescope delivers free images to anyone with an e-mail address.

Citizen Science in the IYA, Aaron Price
Watch a star’s light fade and rise, and perform worthwhile science at the same time.

IYA in Second Life, Adrienne J. Gauthier and Pamela L. Gay
IYA2009 will have a dynamic presence in the virtual world.

Dark Skies are a Universal Resource, Constance E. Walker
A number of programs are planned for IYA that emphasize the importance of a dark night sky.

Astronomy in the News
New View of the Milky Way

JPL / CalTech

For decades, astronomers have been blind to what our galaxy, the Milky Way, really looks like. After all, we sit in the midst of it and can't step outside for a bird's-eye view.

New images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope are shedding light on the true structure of the Milky Way, revealing that it has just two major arms of stars instead of the four it was previously thought to possess.

"Spitzer has provided us with a starting point for rethinking the structure of the Milky Way," said Robert Benjamin of the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. "We will keep revising our picture in the same way that early explorers sailing around the globe had to keep revising their maps."

Since the 1950s, astronomers have produced maps of the Milky Way. The early models were based on radio observations of gas in the galaxy, and suggested a spiral structure with four major star-forming arms, called Norma, Scutum-Centaurus, Sagittarius, and Perseus. In addition to arms, there are bands of gas and dust in the central part of the galaxy. Our Sun lies near a small, partial arm called the Orion Arm, or Orion Spur, located between the Sagittarius and Perseus arms.

"For years, people created maps of the whole galaxy based on studying just one section of it, or using only one method," said Benjamin. "Unfortunately, when the models from various groups were compared, they didn't always agree. It's a bit like studying an elephant blindfolded."