Story last updated at 11/4/2009 - 12:21 pm
Wasn't it great recently when the Juneau area skies were clear at night and you could see the stars and constellations like Orion and the Big and Little Bears, among others?
And unlike Anchorage, Fairbanks or the Barrow regions at night, we had pleasant temperatures so one could stay out and look at the stars and planets a little longer.
It was just 400 years ago that Galileo Galilei perfected the telescope so he could see the details of the Moon, the nearby planets and 4 moons of Jupiter.
So it is that the United Nations and the International Astronomical Union have proclaimed 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy in honor of Galileo's foundational work.
Recently, Juneau was host to the Alaska Math and Science Teachers convention and the keynote opening speaker was Dr. Stephen Maran, a telescope expert who wowed the audience with photos taken from the Hubble Space Telescope and other sources.
More impressive telescopes, he said, are being built for both space platforms and ground sites in Hawaii, Chile and elsewhere. Much is expected to be discovered and confirmed as we calculate the spectrums of light we see.
Juneau recently witnessed the reactivation of the Marie Drake planetarium downtown and people are encouraged to make a visit there each Tuesday night at 6 p.m. for a presentation. Check for details at http://www.mariedrakeplanetarium.com/.
Astronomy includes way more than telescopes but they are one of the tools used to satisfy humanities curiosity. Before Galileo, we had the philosophers' speculating on what the specks of light were above their heads. Now we are strongly founded upon mathematical concepts and use experimentation to test our hypotheses.
There are many resources to explore, including http://www.nasa.gov/, where one can do a search for the International Year of Astronomy, Hubble photos and countless other links.
Even though 2009 is nearly over, for us here in the Panhandle the sky is finally dark enough to contemplate the light patterns above us, if only the clouds would move away!
Ad Astra! (Latin for "to the stars")