Happy New Year, Whyville! Did you make a resolution along the lines of "Get more involved," "Meet people outside of school," or even "Reach for the stars"? Even if you didn't, don't stop reading! I mean, unless you don't like having fun, munching on food, and staying up late . . .
For me, 2009 means more than just an end to good ol' 2008, it's IYA: the International Year of Astronomy, a year-long celebration of stars, telescopes, galaxies, and learning, commemorating 400 years since Galileo first saw the stars through his telescope. In my school's Astronomy Club, we head out to our observatory on clear Friday nights to see objects in the sky that you can't see with the naked eye. In fact, without the astronomers before us and our handy-dandy telescopes, we wouldn't even know that they were there!
As a club head, I am in charge of getting people excited to give up a good part of their Friday nights to shiver under an eyepiece and navigate the unknown. In a school where we have class six days a week, this can be tough.
Fortunately, things in the sky are really, really cool. My favorite things to look at are globular clusters, very concentrated groups of stars held tightly together by gravity. Sometimes they just look like clouds, but if we focus our telescope just so, we can even make out individual stars. Astronomers think that some of the oldest stars in a galaxy are in globular clusters. It's wild to imagine planets orbiting around those stars, and other life forms on those planets looking back at us, thinking just the same thing.
It's also really cool to talk to real-life professional astronomers. Jill Tarter, director of SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), recently came on Whyville to talk to us about how they look for life outside our solar system. She's the woman that the movie "Contact" was based on!
How can you get involved? Finding a club on NASA's Night Sky Network is a great place to start. The Night Sky Network is a group of Astronomy clubs all across America. Head on over to http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/ and click the link on the left to "Find Clubs in the USA." You can also find facts, photos, and resources. Want to know when and where to look to see the space station? How to find a specific star? How you can see the rings of Saturn?
Our club is getting together on January 15th to call in and listen to Dr. Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at SETI, talk about our solar system at the IYA 2009 telecon series. When it is cloudy or rainy, we watch movies and documentaries (think "2001: A Space Odyssey" and NOVA's "Monster of the Milky Way"), read astronomy news articles, or even just eat pizza and chat about finals! It's a great way to meet new people and chat about cool stuff, without the danger of sounding too nerdy :) If you want more tips (like how dress so you don't freeze, or what you can see where you are from), feel free to send a y-mail my way or post in the BBS- I love talking about all of this!
Have a great 2009, and a great Year of Astronomy.
Yours in exploration and celebration,