The Astronomy On-Line Bulletins describe recent developments around this project. For the time being, they will be issued at irregular intervals. Please note that at the time of the official opening of the Astronomy On-Line Programme, information will also become available in the Newspaper area.
A meeting of the Astronomy On-Line International Steering Committee (ISC) was held at the ESO Headquarters in Garching (Germany) on Saturday, September 14, 1996. Present were all members of the ISC. In addition, Ms. Josee Sert (EAAE National Representative in France), Mr. Johann Reifberger (Astronomy On-Line National Steering Committee in Austria), as well as Mr. Claus Madsen of the ESO Education & Public Relations Department (EPR) participated. The practical arrangements were made by Mrs. E. Voelk of the EPR.
This meeting served to summarize the current situation of the Astronomy On-line Programme, to establish the detailed schedule for the upcoming activities and also to decide about the overall content of the individual 'Shops' at the Astronomy On-Line Marketplace.
The meeting lasted from 09:00 a.m. to 19:30 p.m. and was very productive. With a few minor exceptions, all current goals have been achieved and the ISC members are confident that, as stated on various occasions, the Astronomy On-line Programme will indeed become a unique event bringing great excitement and substantial benefits to all involved.
The ISC decided to co-opt Ms. Josee Sert, EAAE National Representative in France. All ISC members were assigned specific tasks, in particular in connection with the 'operation' of the individual Astronomy On-line 'Shops'.
An important decision by the ISC was to open the Astronomy On-line Programme for limited participation by groups at secondary schools on other continents.
During the past weeks, the ISC has received a number of requests for participation by interested parties located outside Europe. However, until now, it was considered necessary - as indicated in Astronomy On-Line Bulletin no. 2 - to limit participation to groups in European countries.This policy was primarily imposed because of limited bandwidth to the Astronomy On-Line Web-sites as well as limited resources at the participating organisations. It would not be desirable if the system were to break down because of overload during the critical phases. Moreover, the financial resources available for this programme to a large extent come from the European Union.
Now, however, this restriction will be at least partially lifted. Reviewing the overall situation, and with the goal to provide a significant number of groups of astronomy-interested young people outside Europe with the opportunity to experience the benefits of the wide, international cooperation inherent in the Astronomy On-Line Programme, the ISC has decided to accept participation by up to 50 groups in secondary schools on each of the continents of Africa, Asia, Australia, North America (here defined as Canada and the USA) and South America. Because of its special relationship with the European Southern Observatory, one of the organizing institutions, the Republic of Chile will continue to be considered as an individual country and thus the South American quote does not apply to Chile.
Starting immediately, the organizers will therefore now accept registrations from participants located on other continents, and up to the indicated limit. The registrations will be entered on a first-come first-serve basis and the opportunity to register will close if and when the limits are reached on the individual continents.
In addition to Europe, registrations are therefore invited from groups of students and their teacher(s) at secondary schools in Africa, Asia, Australia, North America (here defined as Canada and the USA) and South America. Please note that interested amateurs may participate as members of these school groups. You may register from http://www.eso.org/astronomyonline/registration/.
All officially registered, participating groups, irrespective of their location will have full access to all activities within the Astronomy On-Line Programme. It is noted, however, that because of different time zones, some participants may find it difficult to participate fully in some of the events during Phase 3 (November 18-22, 1996) which will reach their climax in the period from 15 - 21 UT hours on these days.
Finally, upon request from various sides, the ISC decided to keep the period of registration open until November 15. This is because information has become available that, as word about the Astronomy On-Line Programme has spread, dedicated efforts are underway in several countries which aim at providing a substantial number of secondary schools with Internet connections, but for technical reasons this may only happen in the first half of November, i.e. during just before the beginning of Phase 2 on November 18. Note also the remarks below about the overall schedule.
The ISC discussed in some detail the contents of the individual 'Shops' at the Astronomy On-Line Marketplace. This included in particular the 'Astronomical Observations', 'Collaborative Projects', as well as the 'Astronomical Data', 'Software' and 'Try your Skills' areas. Many specific activities, programmes and exercises, etc. were brought forward.
During the coming weeks they will be further developed and, at the appropriate time, they will be inserted at their proper place into the Astronomy On-Line Marketplace. The preparations for this will soon become visible within the individual Shops. The successive 'opening' of new activities and possibilities will be announced accordingly, both in the Whats-New and in the Programme Schedule areas.
Of particular interest in this connection is the intention to solicit participation of the participants by formulating themselves some of the activities which will be offered within some of the Shops.For instance, the Astronomical Data Shop, in addition to specific information about how to access very useful Web sites which may be little known by most participants, will also contain another item that is bound to become very popular among the participants. In order to further stimulate the structured use of the astronomy-related areas on the WWW, and to show in an interesting and educative way the many possible uses of the WWW, a number of exciting Treasure Hunts will be organized across the various Web sites. In addition to those prepared by the organisers, the participating groups will be invited to submit such 'Hunts' of their own make to their respective National Committees. After suitable checking, they will then be included into this Shop and thus become accessible to all other groups.
The first Shop to open with specific activities will be that of Collaborative Programmes. In one or two days time, detailed instructions will be made available for co-operative observations of the lunar eclipse on September 27, 1996, as well as of the partial solar eclipse on October 12, together with a comprehensive background material. The associated activities will include observations of these two celestial events, and the obtained observational data should be submitted to the coordinators. Full information about all of this is available on the respective Web pages.
All Astronomy On-line Groups are warmly invited to participate in these collaborative projects. The organizers realize that they take place during an early phase of the Programme and that not all registered groups may be able to contribute. However, there is no doubt that the two eclipse events, quite apart from their educative implications, will also be very useful in order to test the various facilities and the operational aspects of the Astronomy On-line Programme. It is hoped that these 'rehearsals' will uncover possible inherent problems which can then be overcome well ahead of the main events later this autumn.
The detailed schedule and other important information will be accessible from the General Information Shop within a few days. Please be sure check this area regularly since it will from now on be updated more frequently.
The official opening data of the Astronomy On-Line Programme will take place on October 1, 1996, as foreseen. On this date, some of the basic functions will be activated, for instance that of Group Communication. This use of the particular system here installed will not be difficult and there will be clear instructions concerning the operation.
All Participating Groups are strongly encouraged to start communicating with each other as soon as possible. We all hope that Astronomy On-Line will lead to many personal contacts across Europe and now also to other continents and that these will be mutually beneficial to all involved. These contacts will undoubtedly also contribute to the efficient dissemination of interesting information about the individual Groups, their schools, cities and countries, not to speak about astronomical news!
On September 27, 1996, a general meeting will be held at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, for discussion about the approx. 15 projects and the related developments within the Fourth European Week of Scientific and Technological Culture (EWSTC). During this meeting, the Co-Chairmen of the Astronomy On-Line International Steering Committee will present the current status of this Programme and the Astronomy On-Line Video will be shown. In this connection there is no doubt, based on the response so far, that Astronomy On-Line is amply fulfilling some the primary goals of the EWSTC's, namely to inform the citizens of Europe about science and technology, to further international contacts across all European borders and to help educating young people towards a life in the highly technological society of the future.
The ISC decided to have its next meeting on November 2, 1996. At this time, the experience from the first weeks of this Programme will be available and the final fine-tuning will be made.