President Barack Obama will welcome skywatchers to the White House Wednesday for an evening of stargazing with the first family.
A group of professional and amateur astronomers will set up more than 20 telescopes on the White House lawn during the presidential star party to mark the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009), a celebration of the 400th anniversary of famed astronomer Galileo Galilee's first use of a telescope to observe the night sky. President Obama, his family and a group of local middle-school students are expected to attend.
Top targets on the celestial menu: The craters and mountains of Earth's moon, Jupiter and its own moons, and other stars and objects.
The White House star party will begin Wednesday night at around 8 p.m. EDT with a kickoff address by President Obama to be broadcast live on NASA TV. It corresponds with World Space Week, which began Sunday and ends Oct. 10.
According to a White House press office statement, the star party is aimed at highlighting "the President's commitment to science, engineering, and math education as the foundation of this nation's global technological and economic leadership and to express his support for astronomy in particular — for its capacity to promote a greater awareness of our place in the universe, expand human knowledge, and inspire the next generation by showing them the beauty and mysteries of the night sky."
The star party is organized by the White House, Office of Science, Technology and Policy, and NASA — but the idea behind it originated with Chicago-based amateur astronomer Audrey Fischer and a six-month campaign by the IYA2009 team.
"We're delighted that President Obama will take a break from his pressing terrestrial concerns to personally witness some of the same celestial spectacles that Galileo first studied 400 years ago and that revolutionized our understanding of the universe and our home planet," said Stephen Pompea, the U.S. program director for IYA2009 and an astronomer with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), in a statement.
The White House star party is just one of several space-themed events this week.
In addition to numerous World Space Week celebrations, NASA plans to crash a probe into the moon on Friday morning in a bid to search for hidden caches of water ice at the lunar south pole.
Professional and amateur astronomers around the world, as well as several space-based observatories and spacecraft, are eagerly awaiting the planned lunar impact.
Meanwhile, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte will perform a poem from space Friday night at 8 p.m. EDT as part of his campaign to increase awareness for global water issues. Laliberte, a Canadian billionaire, paid a reported $35 million for a trip to the International Space Station and has organized a series of simultaneous concerts and performances through his ONE DROP Foundation to tie into his orbital poetic reading.
Laliberte launched to the space station on Sept. 30 alongside two professional astronauts. He is due to land Oct. 11 on the steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia.