Stargaze Locally, Party Globally!

Of all the International Year of Astronomy's events, nothing matched the raw involvement of last April's 100 Hours of Astronomy, which showcased telescopes and other facilities around the world via nonstop online video streaming.

IYA has come and gone, but its heady buzz lingers. "I'd heard from all around that we needed to do something to keep the momentum going," says Mike Simmons, who co-chaired the 100HA effort. So Simmons brainstormed with others in an attempt to outdo what was arguably the single greatest outreach event in the history of astronomy.

Global Astronomy Month logo
Astronomers Without Borders
The answer, they're betting, is Global Astronomy Month.

During April, amateurs worldwide will be encouraged to participate in all kinds of events at small and large scales. At the local end will be the kinds of activities that fueled the worldwide interest in the night sky. "Most of the world's amateur astronomers engage mostly in public outreach and education," observes Simmons. "They've discovered the rest of the universe, and they want to share it with others." (As the founder of Astronomers Without Borders, the well-traveled Simmons certainly knows what he's talking about.)

Although 100HA announced local events, this time the hope is to establish more connections between activities and to provide a platform for showing off the results. For example, GAM's "broadcast channel" gives event organizers worldwide a place to show general-interest presentations, after-party highlights, and even live video streams.

For the Big Picture, organizers also have some Big Plans. There'll be repeats of successful activities like the 24-hour Global Star Party, along with more remote-observing events like January's highly successful "Big Dipper to South Pole" webcast — which despite little advance notice attracted more than 7,000 participants from 80+ countries.

Bold, new ideas are in the works as well. One is beautifully simple: a weeklong effort to observing the nightly changes in the Moon's position and phase using just your eyes. Another is a "Living Legend Series," featuring live interactive interviews with some of the most famous icons in amateur astronomy. (I could name names, but I'm sworn to secrecy!) You'll also see the inauguration of a major new effort in dark-sky awareness dubbed One Star at a Time.

There's much, much more in store — I can't cover it all here. (In fact, I emailed Simmons to get a couple of clarifications, and he sent me a 1,700-word response!). So check it out for yourselves, start thinking of how you can participate, and get ready to party!