Last week, at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, the Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE), conducted ‘100 Hours of Astronomy’.

Young school students learnt the use of astronomical instruments like telescopes. They also had the opportunity to learn to use sundials and other instruments more than 300 years old.

According to C.B. Devgan, president of SPACE, there is no better way to celebrate the astronomy year than by initiating activities that aim to kindle interest towards the subject in youngsters.”

The year 2009 has been declared “The International Year of Astronomy”. The International Year of Astronomy 2009 “is a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture”. There are many meetings, seminars and events planned in various countries all over the world this year.

It marks the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei in 1609. The telescope made observations of planetary motions possible, and also led to the theory that not the Earth, but the Sun was at the centre of the Universe.

The year 1609 was also the year Johannes Kepler’s “Astronomia Nova” was published, in which he explained the fundamental laws of planetary motions.

It is said that the Greek Aristarchus of Samos was the first to argue that the earth moves around the sun.

The great Indian mathematician and astronomer, Aryabhatta, (476 A.D. to 550 A.D), propounded the heliocentric theory that stated that the sun was the centre of the solar system while the planets including the Earth revolved around it.

Nicolaus Copernicus of Poland, was the first modern astronomer to put forward a comprehensive Heliocentric theory.

In 1609, the Italian Galileo Galilei invented the telescope.

“In the fall of 1609 Galileo began observing the heavens with instruments that magnified up to 20 times.” He drew the moon’s phases. He discovered the four moons of the planet Jupiter. He made many more discoveries that finally convinced him that the Sun was the centre of the Universe and that the planets revolved around it.

This caused problems with the Catholic Church and ultimately he was ordered ‘not to hold or defend’ the Copernican theory of Heliocentricity. But he continued with his research and finally “He was pronounced to be vehemently suspect of heresy and was condemned to life imprisonment and was made to abjure formally“.

After Galileo built a telescope in 1609 and announced hitherto-unknown objects in the heavens, he sent Kepler an account of his research.

Kepler responded with three treatises which provided strong support to Galileo’s theories.

A grateful Galileo wrote to him, “I thank you because you were the first one, and practically the only one, to have complete faith in my assertions.”

(picture of Jantar Mantar from Wikimedia commons .)