IYA2009: The UN International Year of Astronomy: ITU and Astronomy (by Attila Matas, BR/SSD Head of SPR Division and Alexandre Vassiliev, BR/SGD Counsellor for ITU-R Study Group 7 on Science Services)

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) is a year-long celebration of astronomy, taking place in 2009 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the first recorded astronomical observations with a telescope by Galileo Galilei and the publication of Johannes Kepler's Astronomia nova in the 17th century. The Year was declared by the 62nd General Assembly of the United Nations. A global scheme, laid out by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), has also been endorsed by UNESCO—the UN body responsible for Educational, Scientific and Cultural matters. The opening ceremony was held in Paris on January 15–16, 2009. IYA2009 is scheduled to include numerous global projects and public events. The IAU also released a book and movie on the history of the telescope for this event.

The International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) celebrates the first astronomical use of the telescope by Galileo - a momentous event that initiated 400 years of astronomical discoveries and triggered a scientific revolution which profoundly affected our worldview. Now telescopes on the ground and in space explore the Universe, 24 hours a day, across all wavelengths of light.

One the major source of astronomical information is radio astronomy. Radio astronomy does not involve the transmission of radio waves in the frequency bands allocated for its operation, and cannot cause harmful interference to other services. On the other hand, the received cosmic signals are usually extremely weak, and transmissions of other services can interfere with such signals. That is why the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations and the steward of the global framework for radio spectrum and satellite orbits, is very much involved in development and operation of the radio astronomy service.

ITU main activities related to radio astronomy, are the follows:

  • ITU through its Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) provides such essential resources as radio-frequency spectrum and orbit resources for the radio astronomy service (RAS);

  • ITU-R develops and approves international treaties (the Radio Regulations) and voluntary standards (ITU-R Recommendations) that establish the basis for the development and free of interference operation of radio astronomy stations on the Earth and in the space;

  • ITU-R Radiocommunication Bureau carries out electromagnetic compatibility analysis, identifies the probable sources of interference and applies Radio Regulation procedures in order to protect radio astronomy stations;

  • ITU-R Study Group 7 (Science Service) and Radiocommunication Assemblies (RAs) consider and approve and recommendations on the use of radio spectrum and protection of radio astronomical stations from interference included in Radio Astronomy (RA) Series of ITU-R Recommendations;

  • Successive ITU World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs) have taken into account the needs of radio astronomy service to ensure the availability and protection of radio-frequency bands for radio astronomical observation tools. For example, the last WRC-07 approved Resolution 739 (Rev.WRC-07) 'Compatibility between the radio astronomy service and the active space services in certain adjacent and nearby frequency bands';

  • in accordance with WRC-07 decisions the Radiocommunication Study Groups carries out the further studies  and develop of ITU-R Recommendations relevant to the use of radio astronomy;

  • ITU-R has a special Working Party “Radio Astronomy” studying all related matters and preparing drafts of ITU-R standards. Working Party 7D on 'Radio Astronomy' currently carries out new studies on radio quiet zones for radio astronomy. They include: study the characteristics of existing radio quiet zones, protection of these zones, characteristics of the instruments of the radio astronomy service that have stimulated the development of radio quiet zones, and characteristics of the electromagnetic environment stimulated the development of radio quiet zones;

  • ITU also develops and updates guidance on the use of radio-frequency spectrum and protection of radio astronomical stations from harmful interference - the Handbook on Radio Astronomy (see short description below)

Important decisions taken by WRCs in the last decade, such as the extension of frequency allocations to the radio astronomy service between 71 GHz and 275 GHz and recognition of space-based radio astronomy (as well as others), allow to improve the precision of radio astronomical observations.

A sample of ITU-R publications:

The ITU-R Handbook on Radio Astronomy (2003 edition – new version is under development) has been developed by experts of ITU-R Working Party 7D of Radiocommunication Study Group 7 (Science services) that is responsible for radio astronomy, and radar astronomy. The Handbook is not intended as a source book on radio astronomy, but is concerned principally with those aspects of radio astronomy that are relevant to frequency coordination, that is, the management of radio spectrum usage in order to minimize interference between radiocommunication services. The ITU-R Handbook on Radio Astronomy introduces the reader to radio astronomy viewed as a radiocommunication service for the purpose of frequency coordination. It covers areas such as the characteristics of radio astronomy, preferred frequency bands for observations, special radio astronomy applications, vulnerability to interference from other services, and issues associated with sharing the radio spectrum with other services. Additional chapters have been included on the searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and ground-based radar astronomy. It is intended to be useful to spectrum managers, radiocommunication engineers and astronomers.

The United Nations (UN) 62nd General Assembly (in 2007) proclaimed 2009 the International Year of Astronomy. The  Resolution was submitted by Italy, Galileo Galilei's home country Encourages all Member States, the United Nations system and all other actors to take advantage of the Year to promote actions at all levels aimed at increasing awareness among the public of the importance of astronomical sciences and promoting widespread access to new knowledge and experience of astronomical observation.

         United Nations News Release IAU0702

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) is an initiative of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

IYA2009 should:

         help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day and night time sky ‚ and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery. All humans should realize the impact of astronomy and basic sciences on our daily lives, and understand better how scientific knowledge can contribute to a more equitable and peaceful society.

         stimulate worldwide interest, especially among young people, in astronomy and science under the central theme "The Universe, Yours to Discover". IYA2009 events and activities will promote a greater appreciation of the inspirational aspects of astronomy that embody an invaluable shared resource for all nations.

         highlight global cooperation for peaceful purposes - the search for our cosmic origin and our common heritage which connect all citizens of planet Earth. For several millennia, astronomers have worked together across all boundaries including geographic, gender, age, culture and race, in line with the principles of the UN Charter. In that sense, astronomy is a classic example of how science can contribute towards furthering international cooperation.

The IYA2009 is, first and foremost, an activity for the citizens of planet Earth. It aims to convey the excitement of personal discovery, the pleasure of sharing fundamental knowledge about the Universe and our place in it, and the merits of the scientific method. Astronomy is an invaluable source of inspiration for humankind throughout all nations.

For more information on the International Year of Astronomy 2009 please visit 'About IYA2009'.  IYA2009 is featured as a highlight of UN Declared World Space Week 09 (Oct 4-10).



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