400 years ago this year, people first started turning the newly invented telescope to the sky, and were astonished at what they saw. Galileo, not a fool when it came to self-promotion (though he stumbled a bit later in life), drew up what he saw and published it... starting a revolution in not just astronomy but in all of science, all of humanity. The aftershocks still reverberate today.
His telescope was crude by today's standards; lens making wasn't nearly the craft then that it is now. But it was enough to see craters on the Moon, satellites of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, and Saturn's rings. And now, thanks to the International Year of Astronomy, you can experience what Galileo did and, even cooler, share it with others.
One of the Cornerstone projects of IYA 2009 is the creation of the Galileoscope, a replica of what Galileo used to view the heavens. This little 'scope sports a glass 50mm (2 inch) lens, tough plastic casing, eyepiece, and a Barlow lens which doubles the magnification. Its construction is extremely simple, so a small child can assemble it in minutes with a little help from a grown-up. I saw one recently, and I was very impressed. It was well-built and quite functional. You can see images of it in action on the Galileoscope site.
The most incredible thing about this 'scope is the price: you can buy one for just $15! The overriding goal of this project was to make the telescopes as cheaply as possible, so that they could be bought and sent around the world, fulfilling my very favorite goal of IYA 2009: getting everyone who is physically capable of it to observe the heavens.
To make that even easier, the people behind the Galileoscope project have set it up so that you can donate a telescope anonymously for only $12.50. When you do this, some organization somewhere in the world will get a 'scope. It may be a school in Africa, or Viet Nam, or America, or in England. But some group that needs it will get your gift.
Before writing this post, I bought three: one donated anonymously, one for me to play for a night or two and then give to The Little Astronomer's school, and one for you. That's right, when they get here, I will be giving one away on the blog. I'll announce it when I do.
But in the meantime, why not check out the Galileoscope page. If you're a teacher, especially a science or history teacher, one of these will really bring the classroom alive. And whoever you are, why not donate one to someone, somewhere on Earth? We all deserve the sky, I think, and a gift like this literally delivers to the heavens to someone who needs it.