April 9, 2016 1:45 pm

Let’s All Celebrate Global Astronomy Month: April 2016

Photo of Sidewalk Astronomy public outreach in Bisceglie, Italy, by Astronomers Without Borders.

Enthusiasm is contagious as sidewalk astronomy makes its first-ever appearance in Bisceglie, Italy. Click on photo to find out more about this event.

Today’s guest blog post about Global Astronomy Month is by Mike Simmons, President of Astronomers Without Borders, the organizers of GAM 2016. To find an event near you, click here

Global Astronomy Month (GAM) is the world’s largest annual celebration of astronomy, but that grandiose statement doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. Astronomy is so much a part of every culture today – and as far back as the human record goes – that its diversity is what sets a celebration of astronomy apart from other interests.

Mention astronomy and people think of telescopes, spectacular Hubble images, and spacecraft exploring alien terrain. That’s astronomy in the modern era as seen via the media. And there’s plenty of that during GAM 2016. But there’s also a lot more, and it’s all about sharing the Universe with others, just as amateur astronomers do worldwide year-round.

Photo of Philippines public star party, by Astronomers Without Borders.

The Astronomical League of the Philippines parties on the first day of GAM 2015. Young people make up the vast majority of amateur astronomers in most countries.

Telescopes take to the streets for the Global Star Party to share night views, as well as on SunDay for sharing the Sun, giving most people their first-ever view of the objects they’ve only heard of and seen on TV. They’re often amazed to learn that it doesn’t take Hubble to see some amazing things. And they can see the naked eye planets in the sky themselves, something they rarely realize.

AstroArts, a year-round program of Astronomers Without Borders, GAM’s organizer, is featured during GAM with special events. Artists’ works go to the Moon and back during OPTICKS, a live performance using radio telescopes to transmit and receive images. In the Cosmic Concert program, composer Giovanni Renzo of Italy performs a new composition written specially for the event each year that is set against a backdrop of spectacular images and time-lapse videos. A children’s art contest and the very popular AstroPoetry Contest highlight just two more ways people can enjoy celebrating astronomy during GAM this year.

Photo of astrocraft artwork from Astro Cafe in Lake Tekapo, New Zealond, courtesy of Astronomers Without Borders.

The proud creator of a new work of astrocraft at Astro Cafe in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand. Click on photo for more info.

For those who can’t make it to a local event there is online observing with the Messier Marathon from the Virtual Telescope in Italy, hosted by astronomer Dr. Gianluca Masi. Observing as many objects on 18th century comet hunter Charles Messier’s list as one can manage in a single night is a popular ritual for scores of amateur astronomers, but during GAM it’s only Dr. Masi who has to stay up all night. Viewers join in via chat to ask questions and to comment on what they’re seeing and hearing. Sharing the experience with friends, just like at a local star party, is always a big part of the fun, especially when the friends are scattered around the world.

Photo of Indian pre-schooler participating in the GAM 2015 Messier Marathon, courtesy of Astronomers Without Borders.

Anyone can get in on the action with online observing. The GAM 2015 Messier Marathon has a young attendee at a special program in a nursery school in India as Dr. Gianluca Masi provides running commentary on the celestial wonders he is imaging at an observatory in Italy. Click on photo for more info.

Despite the widespread interest in astronomy and its importance to us – our calendars and timekeeping are all astronomy-based – most people remain in the dark about even the basics, so education is important. It’s the joy of seeing faces light up with new understanding that drives many amateur astronomers to share their knowledge at public star parties and other events. Aside from the telescopic views, Globe at Night and International Dark Sky Week are all about preserving those views for future generations. Designed to both educate people about the heritage of the sky that is being lost to light pollution, and to gather data from citizen scientists for research, showing people what they’re missing when they look up is critical. A connection with the sky put astronomy into all our lives in many ways – just take “star” out of the vocabulary and see how much changes! – but the awe of the night sky is being hidden from our view. In formal education, in classrooms around the world students search for undiscovered asteroids with images from professional telescopes provided by the International Asteroid Search Campaign.

Photo of astronomy program for the visually impaired, in Puerto Rico, courtesy of Astronomers Without Borders.

Astronomy is for everyone, as this program of astronomy for the visually impaired in Puerto Rico shows. Click on photo for YouTube video.

This year GAM includes Diverse Universe Week and the launch of a new program to share the diversity of the planet through our common interest in astronomy. Faces of Astronomy asks everyone to share a photo and a short personal story of why they love astronomy or how they get involved in astronomy. Astronomers Without Borders’ global astronomy community (open to all) includes people in almost every country, with very different cultures. When we’re looking out to the stars, however, the differences fade. We’re sharing the same sky with the same activities and the same passion, just looking out “windows” that face different directions from our spherical home, Spaceship Earth.

While Global Astronomy Month is all about astronomy, it’s astronomy in ALL its forms, and as EVERYONE can enjoy it. The diversity of astronomy and its myriad participants are what shine as the real stars of GAM.

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