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APR. 2009

Exploring the Universe during IYA

Parson's drawing of the Whirlpool Galaxy

What Parsons saw:
Pinwheel-shaped object

The logo for International Year of Astronomy: an adult and child watching the stars together

What HST saw:
The Whirlpool Galaxy and companion

In 1845, Irish astronomer William Parsons pointed his telescope, the largest of its day, at a mysterious smudge of shimmering light. To his surprise, the glowing smudge had a striking pinwheel shape that no one had ever seen before. This object, now called the Whirlpool Galaxy, is the first galaxy recognized to have a spiral shape.

This majestic spiral galaxy is the featured object for April 2009, a year that celebrates 400 years of astronomy. Named the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), this milestone year is a special time to learn more about the wonders of our universe. The Whirlpool Galaxy is among several celestial wonders that will be highlighted on the Amazing Space Website, http://amazing-space.stsci.edu, each month during 2009. Other featured objects include the planet Jupiter in September and the Orion Nebula, a star-forming region, in December.

Amazing Space provides online information and resources for each IYA featured object of the month through our IYA page, http://amazing space.stsci.edu/iya. For example, in April, use the Fast Facts to learn about the Whirlpool Galaxy and its characteristics. Learn more about our own galaxy by building the Milky Way in the online exploration Galaxies Galore, Games and More. View spectacular odd-ball galaxies in the Star Witness News story, “Close Encounters of the Galactic Kind,” and use the Galaxy Trading Cards to locate constellations in the night sky.

Amazing Space is featuring a wide-variety of other activities during IYA, including an online exploration that explores the history of telescopes and highlights the technology necessary for telescope development over time. The online exploration, called “Telescopes From the Ground Up,” traces the 400 years of telescope development from Galileo’s refractor to NASA’s Great Observatories. To learn more about telescopes, telescope development, and optics, visit Telescopes From the Ground Up. http://amazing-space.stsci.edu/resources/explorations/groundup/

Portrait of Galileo

Galileo Galilei:
The man who started it all

The IYA was designated by the United Nations to mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of a telescope to view the sky. The goal of the Year is to spark worldwide interest, especially among young people, in astronomy and science under the central theme “The Universe, Yours to Discover.” IYA 2009 events and activities will promote a greater appreciation of the inspirational aspects of astronomy that represent an important shared resource for all nations.

Check out Amazing Space for more IYA activities. http://amazing-space.stsci.edu/iya/

What Parsons saw in 1845

What HST saw in 2005

Parsons' telescope
Small image of Parson's telescope

Galileo Galilei

Online exploration:
Telescopes From the Ground Up online exploration Explore 400 years of telescope history.
Go to

Telescopes From the Ground Up


The Star Witness

brings you "tele-scoops" from the Hubble Space Telescope