2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, in case you didn't know, a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO.
The International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) will be a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture, highlighted by the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei. The aim of the Year is to 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.In other astronomy-related news, Matt Springer at Built on Facts reviews Adam Frank's new book "The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate". Nice segue between IYA2009, Galileo and Science vs. Religion eh? OK, the Catholic Church has apologized about the Galileo thing and it wasn't as simple a case of science vs religion as its often made out to be, but as the Pope's speech greeting those taking part in IYA2009 curiously doesn't mention it I thought I bring it up.
In sadder news, NASA has released its official report on the deaths of the seven astronauts killed when the space shuttle Columbia disintergrated during re-entry on Feb 01, 2003. In short, there was no way they could have survived (NYT article). The sudden loss of cabin pressure asphyxiated the astronauts and rendered them unconscious within seconds, followed by “lethal trauma occurred to the unconscious or deceased crew due to the lack of upper-body support and restraint.”