Welcome to Astronomy On-Line!
After a period of hectic preparations, the world's biggest astronomy event on the World-Wide-Web (WWW) opens today, at a moment when more than 200 groups from all over the world have already registered. Together, they most certainly represent well over 1000 astronomy enthusiasts who are now eager to explore the various Shops at the Astronomy On-Line Marketplace.
Before you start, you may be interested to learn how this all came about.
The Astronomy On-Line Programme was first conceived in April 1996, and, as you may imagine, it has not been easy to set up the corresponding organisation and to implement it within this short time.
It was first discussed, in a very provisional form, during a meeting which took place at the instigation of Directorates XII (Science and Technology) and XXII (Education) of the European Commission in Brussels on 11 April. This meeting was called to organise this year's European Week for Scientific and Technological Culture, a yearly event which began in 1993.
ESO has participated every year, first with a Europe-wide competition among school pupils, of which the 18 national winners were invited to go to Chile to observe with ESO telescopes at the La Silla Observatory in November 1993.
The year after, about 100 physics teachers with a special interest in astronomy met at the ESO European Headquarters in Garching (Germany) and, as a result of this meeting, the first steps were taken towards the establishment of the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE).
In 1995, 12 groups of teachers and students from secondary schools in as many European countries came to Garching to observe with two of the telescopes at La Silla via satellite links.
Astronomy On-Line is organised by the EAAE with the support of ESO and within the framework of the 4th European Week for Scientific and Technological Culture. It continues this tradition, but has a much larger potential than any of the preceding activities. In fact, the structure which has been established for Astronomy On-Line is likely to develop into a backbone network for astronomy education, certainly for EAAE in Europe, and it will undoubtedly also become very useful on a more global scale.
Today, at the time of the official opening of the Programme, much work has already been done, and I hope that all participants will enjoy visiting the various pages so far available on the (WWW). Please note, however, that it was never the intention to provide you at this moment with all the exciting opportunities possible with this new and powerful communication tool. On the contrary, the organisers have planned a gradual implementation of new activities which will contribute to keeping Astronomy On-line interesting for the participants and also ensure that the final phase on November 18-22 will become an exciting event for all involved.
Here I would like to thank some of those people who have greatly contributed to the work so far. On behalf of EAAE, all members of the International Steering Committee, A.M. Cohen, J. Sert, A. Vaesterberg, F.W. Volck, F. Wagner, M. Winther, as well as the EAAE President, D. Simopoulos and others, have provided extremely positive and useful guidance for the establishment of the Astronomy On-Line structure and especially the content. We at ESO are proud to be associated with EAAE, the new, Europe-wide Teachers Association.
It is also a pleasure to acknowledge the enormous work which has taken place in the various countries, under the leadership of the National Steering Committees. Without their concerted efforts, we would never have come this far!
Finally, I am very grateful to those collaborators and friends here at ESO, who have so skillfully taken care of the actual implementation of the first stage of this Programme. I mention in particular H. Heyer, E. Janssen, K. Kjaer, C. Madsen, M. Naumann, R. Warmels, E. Voelk and H. Zodet.
I wish all participants much joy and entertainment when you visit the Astronomy On-line Web sites and from there travel virtually on to many other exciting places in the world. I hope that through this event, you will gain many new friends in many places and that you will continue to be in contact, also after November 22.