Contents Vol. 5 N° 1
p 2 - Secrets of the night sky
p 10 - Experts call for glacier research centre for Central Asia
p 10 - Launch of first centre for water law
p 11 - UNESCO and Korea to foster science parks in South
p 11 - Grid computing links Africans to diaspora
p 11 - A first intercontinentalbiosphere reserve
p 13 - Research grants for 25 young scientists
p 13 - Sixty years of science at UNESCO
p 15 -When is a planet not a planet? Jean Audouze has the answer
p 17 - The sandwatchers
p 21 - Helping Africa's ‘best and brighest’ lift science at home
p 24 - Diary
p 24 - New releases
To your telescopes !
Some governments feel there are too many International Years. It is true that the new century has already shone the spotlight on mountains, freshwater, physics and desertification; the International Union of Geological Sciences is presently gearing up for the International Year of Planet Earth in 2008.
Although governments propose International Years to the United Nations, it is in fact largely the scientific community which implements them, with the support of the media.
At UNESCO’s last General Conference in October 2005, Member States endorsed Italy’s proposal for an International Year of Astronomy in 2009. The next step will be for at least one of these same Member States to bring the proposal before the United Nations General Assembly within the next few months.
In my view, an International Year of Astronomy would have numerous benefits. For one thing, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is very committed. It is already planning star-gazing nights for the general public. As the IAU has national members in just 62 countries however, UNESCO’s involvement will be crucial to ensuring the Year benefits all Member States.
One aim of the Year would be to foster the introduction of astronomy into school curricula. This is precisely the goal of UNESCO’s Space Education Programme. As part of this effort, the programme donates portable telescopes to schools and organizes ‘rocket launching’ workshops for children, as you will discover in this issue.
The Year would also encourage amateur astronomy clubs. The sky is an open-air theatre which everyone can contemplate, with or without instruments. You don’t need a telescope to admire a shooting star or comet. Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter were all known two thousand years before the invention of the telescope.
The Year would be an opportunity for clubs to help one another. A number already have webpages explaining how to make a telescope. These telescopes can be modest affairs. Let’s not forget that Galileo discovered Jupiter’s four moons in 1609 using a telescope just a few centimetres in diameter.
Astronomy is not only one of the oldest sciences in the world, it is also on the cutting edge of research. Remember the excitement last month when NASA published photos of bright new deposits in two gullies on Mars which suggested that water had carried sediment through them sometime in the past seven years, thereby reviving speculation about the potential for microbial life on Mars? The event made the headlines around the world.
What better way to reconcile children with science and improve the population’s general scientific culture than via astronomy? What better occasion to do so than via an International Year of Astronomy in 2009?
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences