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SPIE Professional July 2009

International Year of Astronomy

International Year of Astronomy

Four hundred years after the first telescopic observations of the cosmos by Galileo Galilei, advanced technology and instrumentation such as from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the NAOJ Subaru Telescope in Hawai'i, and the ESO telescopes in Chile have delivered spectacular discoveries regarding the nature and origin of the Universe.

SPIE proudly supports the International Year of Astronomy 2009, an initiative of the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO that celebrates four centuries of celestial exploration with an instrument that has provided astounding images that drive our imagination. Soon-to-be-realized projects such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) will help us to recognize extrasolar planets, perhaps identifying those with environments suitable for life as we know it.

With its theme of "The Universe: Yours to Discover," the International Year of Astronomy connects and supports networks of professional and amateur astronomers, educators, and astrophysicists across the globe so that valuable sources of knowledge can be shared and the citizens of the world can rediscover their place in the Universe.

Our scientific community continues to hone the optics, instruments, interferometry, robotics, and remote sensing technologies that profoundly extend our vision and answer the ages-old questions

  • What is out there?
  • Are we alone in the Universe?
  • What does the past tell us about the future?

Using modern telescopes and technologies, future generations of astronomers will continue the quest for new depths of understanding into the dynamics of black holes, dark energy, distant galaxies, and the expansion of the universe.

Be sure to find your mini-poster about astronomy and telescopes in the print version of SPIE Professional magazine.

SPIE offers free, full-size posters depicting optics used in astronomy, remote sensing, nanotechnology and other fields for use in schools and public outreach projects. Visit spie.org/posters.

Five plenary talks on the space sciences and a star-gazing party on Sunday, 2 August are among several activities at SPIE Optics+Photonics that will call attention to the International Year of Astronomy and advances made with telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation.

"Understanding the past allows us to better appreciate the technology of today and tomorrow," says John Greivenkamp of the University of Arizona who will curate a display of telescopes, monoculars, opera glasses, and binoculars from the early 1700s through 1900.

Leading experts at the astronomy plenary sessions will cover everything from the small to the large, with talks on Adaptive Optics and Telescopes by Robert K. Tyson of University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Detection and Imaging of Exoplanets presented by Stuart Shaklan of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. The conference-wide plenaries by Jerry Nelson from University of California, Santa Cruz, and Tracey Delaney of the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research also focus on astronomy. 

The welcome reception for all attendees at SPIE Optics+Photonics will include an evening of star gazing. Volunteers will set up five telescopes aimed at different celestial objects, and there will be a live data feed from Australian observatories.

During the week, a collection of historical astronomy photos will also be on display. Ryan M. Hannahoe of Montana State University, curator of the collection, will offer 30-minute workshops on "How to Create Your Own Astro-Photos."

Telescope Fact File

  • The James Webb Space Telescope is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope, scheduled for launch in 2013, that will peer through dusty clouds to find the first galaxies that formed the early Universe. It will have a mirror 6.5 meters in diameter and a sunshield the size of a tennis court deployed in an orbit 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.
  • The European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) operates the La Silla Paranal Observatory in the Atacama desert in Chile on behalf of 13 member states. The Paranal site, with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) array is the flagship facility for European astronomy. The four telescopes can work together or in groups of two or three to form a giant interferometer. The VLT observations have produced the first image of an extrasolar planet and the first image of the afterglow of the furthest known gamma-ray burst.
  • A patent for an early telescope design by Dutch lens maker Hans Lippershey (aka Johann Lipperhey), filed in September 1608, paved the way for development of modern astronomical telescope technology and led to the first celestial observations through a telescope by Galileo Galilei.
  • NASA's Kepler mission is to search for habitable planets in the Milky Way to determine how many billions of stars in our galaxy have Earth-size planets and whether any of them have liquid water or could support life as we know it. The Kepler telescope has a 1.4 meter primary mirror and a photometer with a 0.95-meter aperture and a 12-degree diameter field of view. Its 95-megapixel array of CCDs is the largest camera ever launched into space. From its view in orbit, Kepler's telescope is so powerful that it can detect one person turning off a porch light at night.

DOI: 10:1117/2.4200907.13

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