The Year, a joint initiative of UNESCO and the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which was proclaimed through Resolution 62/200, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2007, has the ultimate aim of to encourage citizens of the world, especially young people, to rediscover the universe in which we live and to promote widespread access to the basic sciences and to increase scientific literacy, especially among youth. The Year also aims to promote the role of women in astronomy and the sciences and help developing countries strengthen their capacity in the astronomical sciences.
Also participating in the Global launch opening ceremony were Mrs Catherine Cesarsky, President of the IAU, Mr Reynald Seznec President and CEO of Thales Alenia Space, and Mr Giuseppe Pizza, Vice-Minister for Education, Universities and Scientific Research of Italy. Mr Jean-Michel Jarre, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Year, acted as master of ceremonies for the event.
In his address, Mr Matsuura began by noting that “the celebration of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) is the culmination of the vision and hard work of many partners.” He continued by paying tribute to the IAU, whose leadership had been instrumental in making this vision a reality.
The Director-General went on to underscore that for the past four hundred years, since Galileo Galilei first directed his telescope to the night sky, it had largely been astronomers and astrophysicists who have enjoyed the knowledge and understanding of the universe, its stars and planets, and their link to and impact on our daily life. He highlighted that the Year “provides us with a fantastic opportunity to expand this knowledge, and enable all people to explore the wonders of the universe and appreciate the benefits of its study for society.”
Mr Matsuura underlined the fact that Astronomy has had a profound impact on technological, social and economic development. He noted that “it is clear that a better understanding of the origins of the universe will lead us to better comprehend and manage our own planet, the Earth.”
The Director-General then drew attention to some of the main events spanning the Year, notably the eleven cornerstone projects of the Year, such as the worldwide observation of “100 Hours of Astronomy”, a round-the-clock awareness-raising event spanning all the continents, scheduled to take place from 2 to 5 April, and the “Dark Skies Awareness” project, which aims to preserve and protect dark night skies in places such as urban cultural landscapes, national parks and sites connected with astronomical observations.
Mr Matsuura also highlighted UNESCO's thematic initiative, “Astronomy and World Heritage”, another cornerstone project for the Year, whose main objective is to establish a link between science and culture and acknowledging the cultural and scientific values of properties connected with astronomy.
The Director-General ended his intervention by underscoring that the sky belonged to all of mankind, regardless of beliefs and religions and was therefore a tool for peace and understanding among the peoples of the Earth.
Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 005-2009 - Publication Date: 16-01-2009