If we looked for a quality that is fundamentally human and universal, our curiosity about the world that surrounds us would probably be it. This feeling peeps into young minds, it grows and flares, pushing us to know more, to break our limitations, to rise up from the ground into the shining eternity of the Universe. On this quest we might sometimes feel small, lost or bewildered, but we can also envision humankind as one people, united in a journey through the cosmos on this one-of-a-kind spaceship called Planet Earth.
On October 19th, President Obama opened the White House lawn to host an event for thousands of stars. These stars were not celebrities, however, but those actual giant balls of gas and dust found throughout our Milky Way galaxy.
The event, dubbed the White House Astronomy Night, was intended to help promote the president’s commitment to advancing the United States’ position in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (commonly referred to as STEM). Dozens of satellite events were held around the country, each allowing members of the public to connect, for free, with the stars above and the universe beyond.
Cosmic Light is a program launched by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) celebrating the International Year of Light 2015 (IYL 2015). Invited by the IYL 2015 Steering Committee to organise activities under the Cosmic Light theme for IYL2 015, the IAU recognised the importance of light for astronomy and provided full support to the idea that technology leading to greater energy efficiency is key to the preservation of dark skies.
In the beginning of 2015, following a public call that gathered many high quality educational and outreach proposals from around the world, the IAU identified several key projects — the Cosmic Light cornerstone projects — that within the framework of IYL 2015 are making the difference in people’s awareness of the problems caused by light pollution and the importance of understanding our Universe through cosmic light.
During 2015, students from schools in around 35 countries have collaborated to create and perform Global SkyLight Opera together, providing a platform for both creative science learning as well as cross-border friendship and cooperation. Global SkyLight Opera has been endorsed by the International Astronomical Union as an official project of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015.
The space between the planets is populated by billions of particles mostly from asteroids and comets, which are following orbits around the Sun. We call them meteoroids, defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), as a particle larger than a micron and smaller than ten meters in diameter. They are forming the Zodiacal Cloud, a system in constant replenishment because mm-sized meteoroids tend to fall into the Sun in timescales of tens of millions of years (Ma) due to the loss of kinetic energy by irradiative effects.
Most meteoroids coming from asteroids were released by impacts, while outgassing is the force driving cometary meteoroids to heliocentric orbits. Comets are significant contributors because they are fragile objects composed by a mixture of ices, organic materials and mineral grains as Stardust (NASA) and Rosetta (ESA) space missions have demonstrated. These objects suffer significant ice sublimation when approaching to the Sun. Then, volatile-rich regions produce jets of gas that drive out tons of meteoroids with diameters from dm- to tens of microns. These meteoroids are forming meteoroid streams that can be stable in their orbits for thousands of years. Despite of their quantity and significance, these particles are not surviving to atmospheric entry and we need indirect systems to understand their origin and composition.