International Year of...
This year is the International Year of Physics (in the UK it was re-branded "Einstein Year") and events have been taking place all around the planet to try and bring physics to schools, the wider public, and audiences who may have ignored it in the past. It is also the international year of Microcredit, the international year of Sport and Physical Education, as well as being in the middle of several international decades: Water for Life (2005-2015), Literacy, (2003-2012), Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010), Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010), Roll Back Malaria in Developing Countries, Particularly in Africa (2001-2010) and Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006). The UN must be very busy.
Looking further ahead, 2006 will be the international year of "Deserts and Desertification" while 2007 will be the international year of "the ozone layer" (or "planet Earth") although this may be moved to 2008.
That's not all. 2009 will be the.... wait for it..... International Year of Astronomy! Wow. Paragraph three of that document is interesting:
Today astronomy is studied by a small number of researchers. Although there is general interest in astronomy, it is difficult for the general public to gain access to information and knowledge on the subject.
I hope that astronomy is becoming more accessible to the general public already. There are now a range of magazines which contain varying proportions of observational advice and science articles, and "education and public outreach" is now a much more acceptable use of time for professional researchers than it used to be. A lot of this certainly goes on at Jodrell - the schools are on holiday in England next week so there will be Ask an Astronomer sessions in the visitor centre. Still, there is a lot that can be done, and having a year devoted to astronomy will certainly help.
Why 2009? It will mark 400 years since the Italian astronomer Galileo first used a telescope to observe the heavens, and follows on nicely from the year of planet Earth (whichever year it ends up being!). This will not become official until the UN has their General Assembly in Autumn 2006, but it has the backing of several countries (including Italy) and organisations, including the RAS in the UK and the IAU.