Thursday, January 01, 2009

Classics and the International year of Astronomy 2009

Today is the first day of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. IYA2009 is being coordinated by the International Astronomical Union and promoted by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). According to the official website, the aim of IYA2009 is to promote "worldwide interest, especially among young people, in astronomy and science under the central theme 'The Universe, Yours to Discover.'"

Teachers of Latin and Greek can help students make connections between Classics and astronomy by emphasizing:

  • the contributions made by ancient, medieval and Renaissance scientists, who wrote about their discoveries in Greek and Latin (eg., the Greek astronomers Archimedes, Democritus, Hipparchus, Pythagoras and Thales, just to name a few. Also, Galileo Galilei's Siderius Nuncius and Johannes Kepler's Astronomia Nova, both written in Latin and published 400 years ago).
  • the mythological origins of the names of the planets and constellations (eg. Orion, Draco, Andromeda, Canis Major, etc.) and the allusions and references made to these in literature throughout the centuries.
  • the Latin and Greek etymological roots of the scientific and technological terminology used by astronomers. An understanding of technological terminology enables scientists to speak and write about what they are studying with precision and accuracy.
The US National Node for IYA2009 has a wealth of projects, videos, photographs, ideas, resources and links that are definitely worth checking out. Classics teachers will be particularly interested in the Projects Related to Arts, Culture and Society. (For example, see the Deanspace blog, where an astronomer from the Cincinnati Observatory writes a weekly article about mythology and the constellations.)

Coincidentally, the most recent issue of Prima, the print newsletter for Excellence Through Classics has a wonderful article entitled Starry, Starry Night: Latin Class Makes Connections with Constellations, in which Sherri Madden of the Master's Academy (Charlotte, NC) describes a Stargazing Night that her Latin students recently enjoyed. ETC is a standing committee of the American Classical League.

Interested in hosting your own Constellation Party? The NASA AfterSchoolAstronomy website has a treasure trove of ideas!