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The sky is yours

By CLIVE JACKSON [email protected]

Clive Jackson is the Director of the Astronomical Observatory of Tavira (Sitio do Malhão, Tavira) and the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.

Welcome to the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009). It has taken many years of planning and organising, but finally arrived to embark us on what is destined to be a year full of discovery and wonder and aims to throw light on the origin of the Universe. People have always looked to the sky for the answer to the questions of ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘Why are we here?’ The answers may come sooner than we expected!

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) chooses 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy under the theme, “The Universe, Yours to Discover”. IYA2009 marks the 400th anniversary of the first astronomical observation through a telescope by Galileo Galilei, who, with his telescope, changed the world and became the father of modern astronomy. Proclaimed by the UN and endorsed by UNESCO, IYA2009 has already captured the imagination of countless individuals.

Astronomy is the ‘first and the oldest science’ and it teaches us about the basics of mathematics and physics. These are fundamental to understanding the Universe with its stars and planets, including the Earth, and it helps to implement activities that enhance knowledge in these fields. This is the year in which we can all make a difference in popularising astronomy as never before and bringing it to all.

One of the goals of the IAU in cooperation with more than 125 countries and 50 organisations around the globe is to encourage the citizens of the world, especially young people, to learn more about the Universe in which we live and to explore the links that astronomy provides between the scientific and cultural activities.

The sky belongs to everybody. Astronomy is and can be an instrument to promote peace and understanding between nations and a driver of sustainable development and economic growth.

Under the World Heritage and Astronomy Initiative, UNESCO will be working to raise the awareness and the importance of astronomical heritage worldwide, in terms of its enrichment of human history, from the pre-historic such as Stonehenge, to the most modern such as the European Large Hadron Collider.

At the Astronomical Observatory of Tavira, the aim is to recreate Galileo’s first telescopic view of the heavens to allow anyone with a bit of imagination to see the craters of the Moon, the phases of Venus and the four large Moons of Jupiter, just as it was done 400 years ago. Included in the regional programme is a STAR Party to be held at the end of July (dates and location will be announced) with the objective to bring together amateur astronomers and anyone with a bit of interest in the wonders of the Universe.  

In this year of potential doom and gloom, we have the opportunity to put ourselves into a different frame of mind, in fact to expand our horizons to encompass the Universe in its entirety. This is good for all of us in many ways. You see, there are endless possibilities and opportunities for the future, our potential is limitless and mankind’s greatest progress has often come at the times of greatest hardships.

In Portugal, we are blessed with some of the clearest skies in Europe. We also have a good view of the southern sky that gives us an excellent vista of the majority of our own Universe with its hundreds of millions of Galaxies. There are, without doubt, trillions of planets waiting to be discovered in our Universe, many of them would be suitable for human habitation. We have, potentially, an incredible future ahead of us and it starts right now!

What exactly will be happening throughout 2009? Just watch this space, and you will find lots of information. If you would like more info about IYA2009 around the world, visit

This is the year to celebrate astronomy and we want you to help. Remember the Universe is yours to discover!

Clive Jackson can be contacted by phone on (00351) 281 321 754, by fax on (00351) 281 324 688, or by email to [email protected]. To visit his website, click on the link to the right of this page.