Scientists, amateur astronomers, teachers and outdoor educators are gathering at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh this morning, to launch the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009) in Scotland.
Universities, schools, astronomy societies and environmental groups are hosting a programme of events throughout the country - dark sky observing, public talks, and exhibitions - to celebrate 400 years since Galileo's first observations of the night sky with a telescope. Professor Ian Robson, Director of STFC's UK ATC and the UK Chair for IYA 2009, who is based at the Observatory, says, "The year is a global celebration of astronomy as one of humankind's greatest achievements."
Teachers and pupils from Galashiels Academy in the Scottish Borders and Liberton High School in Edinburgh will be awarded telescopes, as part of the Telescopes for Schools project, by Professor John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland. Suzanne Pritchard, a physics teacher at Galashiels Academy, says: "This is perfect timing for us. With the freedom of the new Curriculum for Excellence, the telescope gives our pupils a fantastic opportunity to have a go at real observing, guided by a real astronomer."
In all, ninety schools in Scotland will be receiving telescopes as part of the project, which is led by the Society for Popular Astronomy to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Professor John Brown says of the prog: "Scotland will have a tremendously vibrant and exciting programme of astronomical and dark sky events for the public and schools, led by researchers, amateur astronomers and science communicators."
The voluntary community will lead the way right across Scotland. Bill Leslie, from SIGMA, the astronomy club for Moray, will be running activities throughout the Highlands and Islands. Bill says: "The year will really put the spotlight on the fantastic range of events run by Scotland's amateur astronomy groups."
Professor Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland says: "The Scottish Government is providing over £100,000 to help fund a range of public astronomy events across Scotland this year. This includes a grant of £49,000 for projects co-ordinated by the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. Stargazing is a great way to encourage our young people to engage with science and I'm delighted that many of the events planned for IYA2009 have families and young people at their heart."