By Sarah Kay Hurst
“Organizing astronomers is like herding cats that are running very fast in different directions!” Berthoud’s Dr. Andrea Schweitzer said laughingly.
Schweitzer, a founding member of the Little Thompson Observatory and a local astronomy enthusiast, is excited to organize the United States’ celebration of astronomy in 2009. As project manager for the International Year of Astronomy, she will undoubtedly be busy coordinating the almost entirely volunteer-based project.
However, Schweitzer feels prepared, partially because of her valuable experiences working with Berthoud’s Little Thompson Observatory. “When I attend national astronomy conferences, there are always people who have heard of LTO,” she noted. “They are amazed how many programs we have since we are only staffed by volunteers.” Schweitzer finds comments like these to be a true testament to the dedication and enthusiasm of the local community.
Her other field experiences in astronomy include working as a research assistant on the NASA Voyager program while completing her bachelor’s degree in physics at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and testing a camera for the Hubble telescope while working on her doctorate in astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She now owns her own consulting business and helps programs such as NASA and the Space Science Institute manage their project teams. She has always “enjoyed science and the skies.”
Schweitzer also helped found Project ASTRO, a program that partners teachers with professional scientists. “It brings expertise into the classroom,” Schweitzer said. “And it also helps scientists improve their outreach and teaching skills.” She has even helped develop bilingual materials for the classroom workshops.
As she embarks upon her new mission to coordinate the entire U.S. in celebrating the night skies, she recognizes the new challenge ahead. “It is not the same scientific challenge, but it is a fun challenge, because a lot of the program would not happen without being well-organized and having people work together.”
She hopes members of the Berthoud community will get involved in the celebration of the International Year of Astronomy. She recommends the International Year of Astronomy 2009 Web site at http://astronomy2009.us, particularly the Host an IYA Event page as a valuable resource. Members of the community can also find out about upcoming events or even plan their own.
The LTO will also host various events in 2009, including talks on astronomy held the third Friday of each month; Schweitzer will speak on March 20. The Globe at Night is an international star counting project that takes place in late March. People living in the U.S. or one of 109 other countries around the world can count the stars from their own locations and submit their results online. A few weeks later, a new map will be drawn, showing where the sky is bright. “The more data, the better, even from the same city,” said Schweitzer.
Globe at Night is just one of the outreach programs seeking community involvement. A NASA mission scheduled for February of 2009 will crash a satellite into the lunar South Pole and observe the resulting plume of dust. Schweitzer explained that even amateur astronomers with basic telescopes should be able to see the plume and find out, alongside scientists, whether there is indeed hidden water as ice on the moon.
Other events to take place in 2009 include a PBS documentary titled “400 Years of the Telescope,” that looks at the astronomical advances since Galileo first invented the telescope. The documentary will air in April. Schweitzer also suggests “From Earth to the Universe,” an online collection of free astronomical photographs.
Schweitzer explained the International Year of Astronomy will finish with a blue moon, the rare occurrence of a second full moon within one calendar month. She encourages everyone to participate in the celebrations and activities of 2009 that happen “once in a blue moon.”
<p>Dr. Andrea Schweitzer, who will serve as project manager for the U.S. in celebrating the International Year of Astronomy, holds the locally owned Berthoud meteorite.</p>