World's Biggest Astronomy Event on the World-Wide-Web
`Astronomy On-Line' will connect students all over Europe
18 June 1996
Astronomy On-Line is a major, all-European project that will take place in conjunction with the 4th European Week for Scientific and Technological Culture later this year. It is based on intensive use of the World-Wide-Web (WWW) and represents the first large-scale attempt in the world to bring together pupils and their teachers all over one continent to explore challenging scientific questions, using modern communication tools, both for obtaining and for communicating information.
What is 'Astronomy On-Line'?
In this project, a large number of students and their teachers at schools all over Europe, together with professional and amateur astronomers and others interested in astronomy, will become associated in a unique experience that makes intensive use of the vast possibilities of the World-Wide-Web (WWW). Although the exact number of participants will not be known until the beginning of October, it is expected to run into thousands, possibly many more. The unusual size and scope of Astronomy On-Line will contribute to make it an important all-European media event.
The central idea is that the participants, through the WWW, will `meet' in a `marketplace' where a number of different `shops' will be available, each of which will tempt them with a number of exciting and educational `events', carefully prepared to cater for different age groups, from 12 years upwards. The events will cover a wide spectrum of activities, some of which will be timed to ensure the proper progression of this very complex project through its main phases.
In fact, Astronomy On-Line will be the first, internationally organised and fully structured programme which offers a large number of students the possibility to familiarize themselves with the use of this communication tool of the future, unequalled possibilities for fruitful international communication, and at the same time to learn much about the science and technology of astronomy, including the scientific methods now being practiced by the world's scientists. Within this framework, they can actively contribute to co-ordinated sub-programmes that will draw on the combined forces and ingenuity of participants from all areas of Europe.
There are many other side benefits, of course, such as stimulating schools to go on-line, prompting international cooperation among the young people, etc. Another important aspect is that the programme will lead to natural involvement of business and industrial partners in local areas of the participating groups. Also its unique character and international implications will be very inviting for extensive media coverage, both in human and scientific/technological terms.
An enormous programme like Astronomy On-Line obviously represents a tremendous challenge to the organisers, and careful planning is crucial to its success. This is ensured by the active participation of experienced educators, scientists and engineers in most European countries, united by the common goal to prepare a well-structured event that is exciting for everybody and which has clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all involved parties.
An International Steering Committee (ISC) has been established for the programme. The ICS is responsible for the planning of the main activities, together with National Steering Committees (NSC) which will coordinate the Programme in their respective countries. The NSC's are still in the process of being formed and for the time being, most EAAE National Representatives will act as contact points for the programme in their areas.
Full information about the organisational and technical aspects of the Programme is available on two central WWW nodes. They will be continuously updated as the programme is specified in increasing detail. The Astronomy On-Line WWW Homepages can be reached under: http://www.eso.org/outreach/spec-prog/aol/
Announcements about National WWW Homepages for the Programme, now being set up by the NCS's, will follow on the above WWW Homepages.
The NSCs will soon issue a call for participation to interested schools, astronomy clubs and other astronomy-interested persons in their respective areas. The deadline for registration is October 1, 1996, the day when the first active phase of the Programme will start. Participants must register with the appropriate NSC.
Participating groups may consist of at least one teacher and his/her students or of one or more astronomy enthousiasts. Each group must have access to the WWW. If access is not yet available at the school, this may be arranged by `sponsors' in the local area. These may be planetaria, science institutes, business undertakings (e.g. in the field of electronics, computers, communication, etc.), industrial firms or private benefactors. All communication via the WWW will take place in English. Only registered groups can participate actively.
The main phases
Astronomy On-Line will be divided into three phases, lasting from October 1 to November 22, 1996, and reflecting the gradual progression of the associated activities.
Phase 1 will last about six weeks, from early October to the beginning of the 4th European Week for Scientific and Technological Culture. During this period, the participating groups will have the possibility of preparing themselves for the active participation, for instance to familiarize themselves with the hard- and software as well as to consider specific programme opportunities, now becoming available on the WWW pages. Regional or international `clusters of groups' may form at this time.
Phase 2 will take place on Monday, November 18 and Tuesday, November 19, 1996. On these and the three following days (Phase 3 : November 20--22), the `active period' will be in the six-hour interval from 15h to 21h UT . Various events are planned to happen at certain times and in certain places on the WWW, keeping the programme lively and enhancing the interaction by ensuring continued attention and expectation by the participants.
During Phases 2 and 3, nine or more `shops' will be available in the Astronomy On-Line WWW `marketplaces' for consultation by the participants. They will display a variety of `goods' (activities) at different levels of complexity in order to attract participants of different age groups, among others: General information; Collaborative projects which require observations by many groups all over the continent; Real astronomical observations to be submitted and executed with telescopes at participating, professional observatories; Prepared exercises which may include guided searches on the WWW; Opportunities to talk to professional astronomers, etc. More details are available at the above mentioned WWW sites.
Ideas for further activities are now being actively solicited by the Steering Committees.
At the end, the various results will be presented on the WWW in the form of short reports which may be commented upon, as far as possible in real time. A `final event' which will `unite' participants from all over Europe will be planned on the last day.
 The EAAE was founded in November 1994 (cf. eso9417 of 2 December 1994) and now has several hundred members located in virtually all European countries; most are secondary school physics teachers with a particular interest in astronomy.
 This period of the day has been chosen to allow students to participate outside the the normal school hours, and by taking into account the time zones across Europe (from UT in the West to UT+2h in East).