IYA@IAU: World Reports

(Can’t find internet access that will allow me to upload photos – they will come)

As an IYA organizer, one of my greatest delights has been randomly finding IYA logos in random places. My first moment of glee was at the National Maritime Museum in London where their gates were govered in IYA logos, and then I had a thrill to find IYA in Japan at a Solar Eclipse festival. Here in the US, my sightings (outside of events I was part of), have been few and far between. Okay, here in the US, my sightings have actually been non-existent, but then I don’t get out much. Nonetheless, IYA has a cool logo and seeing all the places that people have grown giant programs bearing the logo has been really inspiring.

In Mexico City, one well publicized public event attracted 25,000 people to fill a plaza.

In Brazil, 40,000 people have looked through a telescope for the first time.

In India they created a series of videos to play on the major networks in many languages.

In Japan, over 1000 book stores had IYA displays.

In South Africa, they realized most of their continent didn’t have the resources to do a lot so they launched a continent wide teacher training program. (And their opening ceremony was a weeklong packed event!)

In Portugal IYA was part of the Carnival celebrations – a theme for parades!

UNESCO is even working to turn astronomy sites into world heritage sites, working to rpoetct places with cultural value and dark skies for future generations.

For the past two days, numbers have been flying faster than I could catch as we all flipped franticly through our 12 minute presentations. Over and over I’ve been impressed with the energy that is coming from non-western nations. The best photo of the day was the winner of an astronomy folklore contest in Mexico accepting a Celestron telescope as a prize. He was an older farmer who could have stepped out of a folklore story – he wore a straw hate and linen shirt over his sun browned skin.

All across the globe, IYA was accepted as not just something neat to be a part of, but rather it was accepted as something necessary and needed as a mechanism to educate about science and to give hope and inspire people to be part of something global and great.

Basically – they got it. All around the world, already tired academics and amateur astronomers with full time jobs said “This is one year when I won’t sleep because I want to make IYA happen. I want to be part of helping people understand the Universe really is theirs to discover.”

They got it.

Now don’t get me wrong. Lot’s of people in the US get it too. There are several people who lost custody of their lives to IYA (and my husband would tell you I’m one of them). I look at the folks behind “Dark Skies Awareness,” “Galileoscope,” “From Earth to the Universe,” and other projects, and I see people who have made a lot of personal sacrifices (Sometimes even investing their own money to guarantee that projects happen!). We have our own cadre of people – proportional to our population – who are working their hearts out making IYA global events a reality. Somewhere, somehow, we just ran out of energy to hold GIANT real world events at the national level.

We also lack the density. At one point today, I was really not happy with the failure of the US to have GIANT events that weren’t related to the 100 Hours of Astronomy. But than I had a reality check. The 25,000 person event in Mexico was in Mexico City, which is bigger than New York City. They have a large enough population that if they want to have a 25,000 person astronomy event and throw enough publicity at it, they only need to collect 1 in about 400 people, and I’d guess that 1 in 400 people have a big enough interest in astronomy to actively go to a talk if they hear about it. Events like the Mars closest approach in 2003 (which was well publicized), do get very large crowds counted in the 1000s.

But lets face it, if you live in Montana, a 25,000 person event is going to be hard. Especially when you factor in the price of gas 🙂

The US is thinking globally in a lot of what we do. We are running 6 of the cornerstone projects, 1 task group, at least 1 special project, and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten about. We have a wonderful network of amateurs who are running a wonderful network of grass roots programs that are attracting a few hundred people here and a couple 1000 people there. Maybe, given the density of our country, this is as good as it gets. And what we have is pretty good. Pretty [expletive] good.

And we still have 5 months to go…

2 Comments

  1. Now if we could just have some sunspots we’d have a great daytime activity to do with my PST solar telescope. This could be done where crowds are (and when they are there) to attract attention to a night-time event.

    Looking at prominences is OK, but people want spots!
    Ol, Sol, do your part to support the IYA!
    ;^)

  2. Emily Almond
    Aug 30, 2009

    Back in January, I bought an IYA09 pin at Disneyworld, of all places — it has Mickey looking through a telescope. Awesome.

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