Friday, December 21, 2007

2009: UN International Year of Astronomy

Agence France-Presse

PARIS -- The United Nations has proclaimed 2009 to be the International Year of Astronomy to mark the 400th anniversary of observations by Galileo that revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) said here on Thursday.

The initiative, to be hosted by the IAU and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), was approved by the UN in response to a request by Italy, where the great astronomer was born, it said.

Ninety-nine countries and 14 organizations have so far signed up to participate in the scheme, which will seek to promote public involvement in skywatching, especially by the young.

"IYA 2009 will highlight global cooperation for peaceful purposes -- the search for our cosmic origin and our common heritage which connect all citizens of planet Earth," the IAU added.

In 1609, Galileo used a primitive telescope to discover spots on the Sun, craters and peaks on the surface of the Moon and satellites orbiting Jupiter.

His findings confirmed Copernicus's theory that the planets orbited the Sun rather than the Earth, but he incurred the wrath of the Roman Catholic Church by going against its doctrine of celestial mechanics.

Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Inquisition and was forced to recant his findings to avoid being burned at the stake. He spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II, after a 13-year investigation, said the Church had erred but argued that 17th-century theologians were working with the best knowledge available to them at the time.

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