Rocket to the Stars
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Rocket to the Stars

Riding the rocket is a routine event for most of us, a mundane part of our daily schedules that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. But at least for the next month, some imaginative physicists want to take the edge off our collective tedium and sprinkle a bit of cosmic wonder through our otherwise boring commutes. This year is the International Year of Astronomy; to celebrate, a series of posters is going up on the TTC which aims to engage our curiosity about the very nature of the universe itself. The campaign is part of an initiative called CoolCosmos, and consists of five posters that offer whimsical tidbits of information about astronomy, couched in terms that those of us who never ventured past grade 11 physics can still understand. It’s an endearingly nerdy campaign, and the most compelling use of TTC ad space we’ve seen since Poetry on the Way got us pondering the merits of blank verse while stalled on Bathurst.
The International Year of Astronomy, like any respectable campaign, is also getting its own launch party. On January 10, the ballroom at the Gladstone Hotel will be transformed into a planetarium for your cosmic viewing pleasure. Medieval astronomy music will be played (no, we don’t know what that is either), and assorted art installations, speakers, and interactive exhibits should make for an offbeat evening.
CoolCosmos is the brainchild of University of Toronto astrophysicist Ray Jayawardhana. Indulge your inner geek by catching some of our conversation with him after the jump.

Torontoist: Why was 2009 chosen to be the International Year of Astronomy?
Dr. Jayawardhana: It’s four hundred years since Galileo Galilei turned a telescope into the heavens—it was the first time people had direct evidence that not everything in the universe revolves around the earth….Also, starting in 1995 we’ve found 325 planets revolving around other stars; it’s been a very heady, exciting decade of discovery.
What inspired you to put astronomy ads on the TTC, of all places?
I’ve always been interested in sharing the excitement of astronomy and science in general with the public at large. I also very much feel that science is an integral part of human culture—why shouldn’t it be shared with as many people as possible? Anytime you have a [public] lecture, you still only get people that have at least a passing interest. The TTC was a very nice way to have a captive audience. At least for thirty seconds we can enter the daily life of hundreds of thousands of people.
What do you hope people will get out of your campaign?
The main thing people are used to seeing from astronomers is pretty pictures. I intentionally wanted this campaign to not be pretty pictures but something that surprises people. Four of the five ads don’t even have astronomy images. The idea was to make the connection, to highlight that the universe is not something that is far away.
What would you like non-specialists to know about astronomy?
It’s fun, it’s accessible, it’s something that connects you to the rest of the universe. There’s so much that astronomers are doing and it’s a particularly exciting and happening time with us and it’s a shame not to share that.
Thanks to Karen Whaley and Discover Magazine for the tip.