If you are reading this, then you probably have already seen this phrase before: April is Global Astronomy Month.

This little phrase is slowly entering the minds of astronomers, be they hobby, sidewalk, or researchers of the subject. And along with this phase comes a whole range of tags, related events that are also starting to be a part of the yearly calendar of “mandatory” astronomy related events. Tags like “Global Star Party”, “Lyrid Watch”, “Saturn Watch”, and of course “SunDay”.

For the third consecutive year we celebrate SunDay, the second during the “reign” of Global Astronomy Month.

It all started during the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (seems like a million years ago), with a “little” event called 100 Hours of Astronomy

It was a simple idea, really. For 100 consecutive hours, someone, somewhere in the globe was doing something related with astronomy. Lectures, concerts, observing days and nights, online events, plays, movies, hands-on activities... If you can imagine it, it probably happened sometime between the 2nd and the 5th of April 2009.

Almost four whole days of Astronomy!

And then we all died (metaphorically, of course)! We were all completely exhausted of this marathon ran at the speed of 100 meter hurdles.

We might have been dead, but the idea was too good to let it die. So Astronomers Without Borders (one of the partners of 100HA), decided to build on the legacy of 100HA, with a twist:

Instead of 100 consecutive hours, why not use the whole month? Multiply the available days to organise events, and dilute the work load over 30 days. And thus the Global Astronomy Month was born.

Merging some “old” faces from the 100HA task group (like Mike or Donna), with new faces (like Thilina or Oana), a new dynamic group was created, and we are now in the middle of the second edition of GAM.

But the title of the post is “SunDay”, so... what is a SunDay?

We (meaning myself, Bruno Nuño and Manoj Pai, of the IYA Solar Physics Task Group) came up with the idea to use the last day of 100HA, which was a Sunday. Well, a solar physics group organizing a Sun dedicated day on a Sunday... let’s just say that the name was not that hard to come up with.

The Sun on SunDay (17th April 2011). Images from OAUC (Ca II and H-alpha) and SOHO (continuum).

The idea was that, even though we live with our star daily, most people on Earth aren’t that much aware of how much we depend on it or how it can affect us. The solar cycle, solar storms, Flares, solar eclipses, “simple” light and heat, it all comes from the Sun, and it can all affect us, directly and indirectly. For example:

  • Did you know that, in each second, the Sun produces more energy than all the energy produced since humanity learned how to make fire? That’s each second!
  • Did you know that the Sun doesn’t all spin at the same speed? Our star is a burning furnace of Plasma (a state of matter that sometimes behaves as a gas, others as a liquid, but it’s neither), so it doesn’t spin as a solid. The solar poles spin slower (around 36 days) than the equator (around 25 days).
  • Did you know that, on March 13th 1989, a massive solar storm struck the Earth, which led to satellites losing control for hours, and disruption of radio communications? Both led, for example, to the loss of weather satellite images. It also caused variations in Earth’s Ionosphere, that led to induced electric currents in Hydro-Québec's power grid, which in turn “fried” power generators and caused a 9 hour power outage in Quebec?


Now imagine a 9 hour blackout in today’s information driven society. Imagine 9 whole hours without TV, Internet, radio, GPS or even electric power!


Because of all of this, SunDay was one of the original events from 100HA that got picked up by GAM.

And some of the activities we have available for GAM’s SunDay can be used beyond it, so if I teased your curiosity, just go to our solar resources and try one (personally, I recommend the sundial).

To finish, I’ll just leave you this quote I found online:

The insufferable arrogance of human beings to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it was conceivable that the Sun had been set afire merely to ripen men's apples and head their cabbages. Cyrano de Bergerac


Blogger :
Ricardo Cardoso Reis is an outreach assistant at Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto (Center of astrophysics of U.Porto), in Portugal, where he produces and presents show in the Planetarium of Porto, writes news and press releases, orients telescope observing nights (and days), and supervises hands-on activities in projects as Junior University, Researchers Night in Europe or "Astronomy in the Summer".
In 2007 he represented CAUP in the SWEETS consortium (Space Weather and Europe - an Educational Tool With the Sun), where he produced the original planetarium show "Thunderstorms in Space Weather" and co-produced a multi-language DVD-Rom.
During the International Year of Astronomy 2009 he was the coordinator of the global project Dawn of IYA2009 and was a task group member of the Solar Physics Task Group, 100 Hours of Astronomy (100HA) and Galilean Nights (GN).
He is an editor at Portal to the Universe and chair of GAM2011 Solar Programs working group.


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