This year has been declared as the International Year of Astronomy. It marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first astronomical observations using a telescope and the publication of Johannes Kepler’s Astronomia Nova (which described the fundamental laws of planetary motion). The year will be marked by events in many countries – including New Zealand.
As a science astronomy is part of a truly global culture. Much of astronomical research occurs within the context of cooperative international ventures. It also interests and inspires people from all countries. We can all be enthralled with the success of recent interplanetary probes to Mars and Saturn. And with the photographs of astronomical objects taken by the Hubble Telescope.
Modern cosmological theories on the origin and evolution of the universe also attract wide interest.
I think it is fitting that 2009 also sees the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary oif the first publication of his great work The origin of Species. Heightened interest in the ideas of biological evolution and natural selection fits well with current interest in the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life. Recent findings from Mars and the ongoing discovery of extra-solar planets (now over 300) are highly relevant.
The International Year of Astronomy also fits well with current interest in particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider, which will (hopefully) become operational this year. Our understanding of cosmology and the origin of the universe is intimately connected to theoretical physics and the nature of matter. The LHC experiments should improve our knowledge in these areas.