The International Astronomical Union has announced a year celebrating the science. They have named 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy to commemorate 400 years since Galileo viewed the heavens through a telescope.
Planetariums and observatories are set to support the event. In the UK, celebrations are set to focus on a National Astronomy Week when local societies will set up their telescopes to show the public the sky. Theme of the week will be the Moon as it will be 40 years also since the first Apollo landing in 1969.
Robin Scagell, vice-president of the UK’s Society for Popular Astronomy, said: “We are already helping plan a Moon Week in July 2009 when we hope to help people see the Moon and planets through our telescopes.”
An IAU spokesman said: “In 1609, Galileo Galilei first turned one of his telescopes to the night sky and made astounding discoveries that changed mankind’s conception of the world forever: mountains and craters on the Moon, a plethora of stars invisible to the naked eye and moons around Jupiter.
“Astronomical observatories around the world promise to reveal how planets and stars are formed, how galaxies assemble and evolve, and what the structure and shape of our Universe actually are.
“Today, humans are in the middle of a new age of discovery, one as profound as the one Galileo ushered in when he turned his telescope on those glorious star-filled nights 400 years ago.”
There is actually some dispute about who first used a telescope on the sky with some believing that British astronomer Thomas Harriot, from Oxfordshire, beat Galileo to it. The picture is an image of Galileo.