BY EMILY JACK

In Europe in the early 1600s, witch hunts were common practice and people were burned at the stake. Health care included bloodletting and surgery without anesthesia. And expeditions to the so-called New World were launching a new era of cruelty and genocide. But even during those dark times, a scientific revolution was underway that would change the way humans understood themselves and their place in the world forever.

It was 1609 when Galileo Galilei turned his telescope to the skies and began the observations that ushered in modern astronomy. 400 years later, the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO have declared 2009 the International Year of Astronomy to honor Galileo and to celebrate the advances in astronomy since his time.

The NASA International Year of Astronomy (IYA) website offers a number of ways to observe the IYA, including a page of links to educational and multimedia resources. Highlights include:

  1. Epos’ Chronicles, a series of educational web comics about astronomy.
  2. How Big is Our Universe? — a site from Harvard that helps students visualize the enormous scope of the solar system and the universe.
  3. Observing with NASA, which lets students control robotic telescopes to view a variety of cosmic scenes.
  4. Are We Alone?, a series of funny and compelling podcasts about scientific themes. Archived podcasts include discussions of zombies and a skeptical exploration of doomsday Hollywood movies.

The International Year of Astronomy is nearly over, so take some time to honor Galileo. After all, he spent 10 years under house arrest just so you could have some science.

International Year of Astronomy

Related stuff:

Get spaced out at HubbleSite.org

See the sun up close at The Sun in Motion

Peek into space with Windows on the Universe

Set the controls for the closest planet to the sun: NASA Mission to Mercury