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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Caty Pilachowski
Department chair, IU Astronomy

Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009

Statewide contest, speaker series highlight IU salute to International Year of Astronomy

Feb. 26, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University next week kicks off its own celebration of the International Year of Astronomy with three months of events that include a statewide contest for high school students, a public lecture series highlighted by a visiting Nobel laureate and an open house at IU's historic Kirkwood Observatory.

The worldwide celebration -- recognizing Galileo's first use of a telescope to study the heavens in 1609 -- has captured the imaginations of scholars, students and citizens in more than 135 countries, with official IYA events scheduled from Afghanistan to Zambia. IU astronomers have activities scheduled to begin next week that will continue through spring.

"It's been 400 years since Galileo first looked at the heavens with his telescope, and we're eager to celebrate not only the thrill of his first discoveries, but all that has been discovered since," said IU Astronomy Department Chair Caty Pilachowski. "A view of the heavens with a telescope is a joy shared by everyone, everywhere, and the International Year of Astronomy gives us a chance to celebrate the excitement of new discoveries with everyone, young and young at heart."

From intensely specialized to broadly accessible, astronomers have offered an array of projects designed to impact the public. In Florence, Italy, astronomers have painstakingly recreated Galileo's original apparatus and are using it to catalog the same objects he recorded in his 1610 treatise "Sidereus Nuncius" (Starry Messenger). Astronomers from 35 countries have been blogging since January about their daily lives as scientists at Cosmic Diary, and earlier this month, a $15 Galileoscope went on sale as part of an IYA project to put an affordable telescope into the hands of at least a million people.

"We look forward to joining the worldwide celebration of the International Year of Astronomy with events here at Indiana University," said Bennett I. Bertenthal, dean of the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences. "Our participation in the IYA is just one of the many ways that the College of Arts and Sciences engages its students, faculty and community with the wonders of science. We invite everyone to take part in an International Year of Astronomy event and expand their knowledge of the universe that surrounds us."

Young Astronomer Contest Deadline April 1

Events are already under way for Indiana's high school-age Galileo fans. Indiana University has invited students in grades 9-11 from across the state to explain what they would want to look for, and why, if given the controls of a powerful 36-inch telescope like the one IU astronomers have access to at the National Science Foundation's Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.

The entrant with the best proposal submitted by the April 1 deadline will take command, with the help of IU astronomers, of the Kitt Peak National Observatory's WIYN 0.9-meter telescope and then view and take pictures of the objects discussed in the winning proposal. This will be accomplished using remote controls inside IU Astronomy Department facilities at Swain Hall West, some 1,500 miles away from the observatory.

"What's out there in space is amazing, and we're curious to see what astronomical views will excite today's high school students," Pilachowski said. "With the 0.9-meter telescope, a little creativity, and bit of work, students should be able to produce spectacular new images of some of the most beautiful sights in the universe, or even explore some new corners of the universe that the pros haven't discovered yet."

For more information about the contest, or to obtain an application, visit

Public Speaker Series Begins March 3

The public can begin its immersion into the International Year of Astronomy by taking in the first of a three-part lecture series highlighted by Nobel Prize winner John Mather's contribution in April.

Inaugurating the series on March 3 will be University of Toledo professor Thomas Megeath, an astrophysicist who helped build a camera used on NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope while he was at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His "Search for New Worlds with Space Telescopes" presentation will be at 7:30 p.m., March 3, in Room 130, Myers Hall, 915 E. Third St., Bloomington.

Thomas Megeath

Thomas Megeath

Following Megeath on March 24 will be Thomas Hartquist, a visiting fellow at the IU Institute for Advanced Study and a professor at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Hartquist will speak on "The Chemical Heritage of Star and Planet Formation," beginning at 7:30 p.m., March 24, in Room 015 of the School of Fine Arts, 1201 E. 7th St.

Mather, the 2006 Nobel Prize winner in physics, will appear April 21 to offer a "big picture" look at the history of the universe with his talk, "From the Big Bang to the Nobel Prize and on to James Webb Space Telescope."

Set for 7:30 p.m., April 21, in Whittenberger Auditorium at Indiana Memorial Union, the lecture comes from a researcher dubbed by Time magazine in 2007 as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World." A senior astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Mather is visiting campus as this year's Konopinski Lecturer in the Department of Physics.

Kirkwood Observatory Open House

IU's historic Kirkwood Observatory, constructed in 1900, will reopen its doors for the public viewing season at 8:30 p.m., March 25 (weather permitting), with an open house celebrating the International Year of Astronomy. If clear skies prevail, guests should be able to view nearby star clusters, and later in the evening, find a bright yellow Saturn and its planet-sized moon Titan.

Located just northeast of the corner of Fourth Street and Indiana Avenue at the wooded edge of campus, the observatory will remain open to the public for night sky viewing each Wednesday evening through November. The observatory, Kirkwood Avenue and Kirkwood Hall are all named for Daniel Kirkwood, the renowned astronomer who spent more than 30 years at IU before his death in 1895.

For future updates on viewing schedules and weather closings at the observatory, visit the link at or call the observatory hotline at 812-855-7736.

To speak with Pilachowski or Bertenthal, please contact Steve Chaplin, IU Office of University Communications, at 812-856-1896, or