Astronomers launch year-long celebration

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International Year of Astronomy

When the International Year of Astronomy kicked off in Paris last month, the celebrants included royalty, government ministers, Nobel Prize winners and other eminent scientists.
Oh, and third-year University of Victoria student Deanna Pineau was also there, with a special invitation in hand.

Pineau was one of two undergraduates chosen to represent Canadian university students at the opening ceremonies. She earned the honour in a national essay competition in which she wrote about the impact of astronomy on science.

Coordinated by the International Astronomical Union, the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA) marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first astronomical observation through a telescope. More than 135 countries, including Canada, are participating in the global celebration of astronomy and its contribution to society and culture.

Pineau and a student from the University of Western Ontario joined 80 astronomy students from other countries at the Paris event, which featured presentations and video conferences with astronomers from around the world.
“Meeting eminent scientists and students from around the world was an enriching experience,” says Pineau. “I gained advice from top scientists, insight into what to concentrate on as a researcher and, in general, a broader perspective and greater appreciation for astronomy and its place in the world.”

Pineau’s winning essay included an innovative idea for public outreach during IYA. She plans to develop an astronomy-themed camp—games and crafts—and publish it in Canadian Guider magazine, which goes to Girl Guide leaders across Canada.

“My goal is to build a ‘camp in a box,’ which is something that guide leaders can run for their groups,” says Pineau, who was a Girl Guide from kindergarten through to grade 12. She recently reconnected with a Victoria group.

“We’re delighted with Deanna’s success,” says UVic astronomer Dr. Sara Ellison. “Her project will not only help bring astronomy into the community, but provide strong role models for the youngsters she works with.”

Thanks to UVic’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the National Research Council’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Saanich, Victoria is a hub of astronomical expertise. It’s no surprise, then, that Victoria will host a series of IYA events throughout 2009.

One of the first events is a public lecture on Feb. 8 by Alain Berinstain, director of planetary exploration and space astronomy at the Canadian Space Agency. The lecture, entitled “Missions to Mars,” takes place at 2:30 p.m. in room B150 of the Bob Wright Centre. The lecture is free and suitable for all ages.

“One of the main goals of IYA is combining astronomy with other disciplines,” notes Ellison, who is the IYA contact at UVic. Other planned events include astronomy-themed plays, musical performances and art exhibits, as well as star-gazing nights at UVic’s on-campus observatory.

For more information on the International Year of Astronomy visit and click on “Search for local events.”

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