New LJfriend kajivar
has informed me through some amazing posts
, that 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy
, organised by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the International Astronomical Union.
It's a shame that it has to be coincident with Darwin200, but that's all Chuck's fault for daring to be born exactly 200 years after Galileo began recording astronomical data with a telescope
. Obviously, I'm an evolution geek,but I'm quite happy to share the year; let's call it International Year of Science is Awesome
. Or maybe International Year of True History
; if human history is just a fiddly insignificant epilogue to palaeontologists, then the history of life is just a fiddly insignificant epilogue to astronomers, after all.
By True History, of course, I mean the record we have of things that happened long before humans started writing things down: before humans even existed in some cases. It is, after all, why I love palaeontology: the ability to piece together events and unravel events to which we have no eyewitness other than the natural processes happening around them. A large part of astronomy is a similar thing of an even grander scale; observing large-scale processes that happened a long long time ago, which we can only begin to see because of the regrettably limited speed of light.
Or at least, that's what I find so fascinating about Astronomy and the related field of astrophysics. But on another level, it's an excuse to get your telescope out and look at pretty pictures. Which is nice, too.
There are of course, nearly as many parallels to be drawn between Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilei as there are comparisons that shouldn't be made: the obvious one of the former would be the famous controversies with the established church. The Catholic Church's problems with Galileo
are well documented, as his studies contradicted the established dogma of geocentrism. Two hundred years later, Darwin and Wallace's Theory of speciation by means of natural selection was seized on by certain members of the clergy
with similar ideas of what the new discovery might do to the established orthodoxy.
Creationism is enjoying a resurgence recently (religion has not been a constant opponent to evolution, despite what creationists would have you believe), and there are still geocentric movements
out there as well. I'm never sure what the motivation of these more outlandish groups are, but the standard and obvious one is a need to control: if science can be proven wrong, the argument seems to go, then religion is right; specifically, the dominant, culturally controlling religion is right and there are no alternatives whatsoever, or something. The Discovery Institute's Wedge Strategy
serves as an excellent example of how pseudoscience is used as a reliopolitical tool; if you can dislodge such a fundamental cornerstone to our understanding of the universe as the Galileo model or evolution, you can re-establish organised religion as a controlling power.
Faith has as little to do with the motivation behind these objectors as scientific challenges have to do with their argument. It's about organised religion as a tool of control, and we shouldn't forget that. On the other hand, the reduction of the geocentric groups to the loony fringe is definitely one to bring hope to anyone who wants a better science knowledge among people: someday Creationists will be reduced to the kind of ridicule you just gave to the Geocentric sites.
Don't deny it. I know you're shocked and appalled, and very very amused.
So, back to astronomy and this year: acording to the IYA2009 website, the major goals of the year are to:
- Increase scientific awareness.
- Promote widespread access to new knowledge and observing experiences.
- Empower astronomical communities in developing countries.
- Support and improve formal and informal science education.
- Provide a modern image of science and scientists.
- Facilitate new networks and strengthen existing ones.
- Improve the gender-balanced representation of scientists at all levels and promote greater involvement by underrepresented minorities in scientific and engineering careers.
- Facilitate the preservation and protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage of dark skies in places such as urban oases, national parks and astronomical sites.
These are, in my opinion, very worthy goals, and I'll be following the IYA with some interest. Meanwhile, check out their website on how to get involved
, and if you're lucky enough not to live in a massive overpopulated urban area, look up after dark!