International Year of Astronomy due to kick off in Prague

The year 2009 has been designated as the International Year of Astronomy, as it marks exactly 400 years since Galileo first used an astronomical telescope to study the skies. As the presiding head of the European Union, the Czech Republic has been chosen to launch the Year of Astronomy with an official celebration taking place this coming Wednesday on Prague’s Old Town Square. One of the organizers of the events here in the Czech Republic is the Czech Academy of Sciences. Earlier today, I spoke to its director Václav Pačes:

“Astronomy in the Czech Republic has a great potential now but it also has a great history. Johannes Kepler worked in Prague, as well as Tycho de Brahe, and in the 17th century, Prague really was the capital of astronomy.”

How is the Czech Republic doing today in terms of space research?

“I think we are doing fairly well. The Czech Republic became a member of European Southern Observatory, the biggest assembly of telescopes that are now accessible from our institutes. We are also members of the European Space Agency, which is very important, because it opens up a possibility that the Galileo programme will be run from Prague. And we are also members of the Pierre Auger centre in Argentina. So I think that Tycho de Brahe and Johannes Kepler would be satisfied with Czech astronomers.”

What does the Czech Republic want to achieve during this year?

“One of the main aims is to attract young people, especially high school students, to astronomy and natural sciences in general. Today we have problems to attract young people to science and technology. We think that this may help to raise their interest in this field. I think it is very, very important.”

Can you mention some of the major events that will take place during the International Year of Astronomy?

“We start on January 7 on the Old Town Square in presence of the EU commissioner for science and research, Janez Potocnik, and several members of the Czech government. We start with an exhibition in front of the oldest astronomical clock in the world, the famous ‘orloj’. Later in the afternoon we open another astronomical exhibition in the piazzetta of the National Theatre. These exhibitions will then travel to other places in the Czech Republic again with the aim to attract people to astronomy. We hope also that our politicians will realise how important astronomy is as a field of science.”

Official website of the project: