After 400 years, Earth still in orbit around sun
by İzgi Güngör
ANKARA - The cause of the Earths orbit, its impact on night and day, and the reasons for the seasons are lessons from elementary school worth remembering.
Especially this year, as the world marks the 400th anniversary of when Galileo first gazed beyond the sky through his telescope. But as the world celebrates the year of astronomy, experts say that despite a rich history of celestial navigation, modern Turkish society has a ways to go to keep up with sciences understanding of the universe.
This year is being recognized as the International Year of Astronomy, the IYA 2009. It is a collaboration of the International Astronomical Union, or IAU, and the science and cultural branch of the United Nations, UNESCO. The aim is to help people all over the world develop a personal sense of wonder and discovery. Those involved also hope to improve the relationship between astronomy and Turkish society by quizzing and informing the public of the quantum leaps science has made since Galileo first saw deep into the nights sky a long time ago.
"There are very basic astronomical facts that impact our daily lives and I am not sure the reasons of these are explained well to children in school and I am not sure how many people still remember what was taught," said astronomy scholar Dr. Emrah Kalemci of Istanbuls Sabancı University and the Turkish Astronomical Society.
"I think, in general, the relation between the public and astronomy is weak, and I believe this is as a result of the teaching methods and curriculum in primary schools. Many people read the astrology sections of newspapers, without knowing what the zodiac is, for example, and that it has no scientific bearing at all," he said.
What prevents Turkey from achieving its potential in astronomy is partially the result of a lack of infrastructure and large telescopes (not only optical but also those that use other wavelengths), according to Kalemci. It is also the result of an absence of a central organization such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. There is no government mandate to promote astronomy to the public. The leading role in this respect was primarily undertaken by universities and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, TÜBİTAK.
Roadmap falters without synergy and funds
"Without such telescopes and laboratories that are dedicated to astronomy, it is difficult to attract good students to the field," Kalemci said. "Many countries have drawn their 10-year roadmaps for specific programs. For the last 10 years or so the driving force behind international astronomy has been cosmology, dark matter and dark energy, yet Turkey has made little effort to catch up with the rest of the world."
Funding for astronomical and space science related projects, as well as the new telescopes, remains another obstacle in promoting astronomy in Turkey. But there has been a big increase in the funding of these projects, especially since the roadmap was signed by the National Space Research Program in 2005, according to Kalemci.
TÜBİTAK and the State Planning Institution, DPT, have financed many projects and satellites that observe the earth have been built. After the establishment of the TÜBİTAK National Observatory, or TUG, with its large 1.5-meter-wide telescope in 1997, there have been more opportunities for Turkish astronomers.
Çanakkale March 18 University Observatory will bring in another 1.3-meter telescope this year and another 1-meter telescope will be operational at TUG. There were also plans to build a national radio telescope at Kayseri. Despite the increase in funding, only relatively small telescopes have been built and the current infrastructure is nowhere near as far along as the roadmap dictates.
The profession of astronomy is likewise not very popular in Turkey, according to Kalemci. Despite a steady increase in the number of astronomy students, job opportunities are limited. Some of them could find academic jobs, but others had to transfer to other branches such as computer science, mathematics, and teaching.
Despite the challenges, he said there have been positive developments and there are a significant number of ambitious people who are interested in astronomy.
"There are very successful individual scientists working in the country. Some Turkish astronomers are well known in the world through their studies of compact binaries, and high energy astrophysics," he said. "The number of events focusing on popular astronomy is similarly increasing and hopefully will peak this year. I think a culture of astronomy could be established, if only we could start teaching it right in primary schools."
Universities and TÜBİTAK are making concentrated efforts to return astronomy to its rightful significance in primary school education. In a bid to further develop a sense of wonder about astronomy, universities, schools, nongovernmental organizations and TÜBİTAK have also organized activities, such as popular astronomy talks, space camps, observation fairs, exhibitions, planetarium shows and telescope building workshops.
|24 Şubat 2009|