Today we remember Galileo as one of the great early astronomers, but he spent the last six years of his life under arrest for astronomical observations that challenged the beliefs of his time, but which four centuries later are accepted scientific truths. Two centuries after Galileo’s death, the beliefs that caused his house arrest were commonly accepted and William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse built the Leviathon of Parsonstown, the largest telescope ever made; it remained the largest for seventy-five years, until the Hooker Telescope was constructed in the United States in 1917.
These and other events are commemorated in Second Life as part of the ongoing International Year of Astronomy, being celebrated in 140 countries. You can visit the courtyard of the house where Galileo lived under house arrest, and you (or at least your avatar!) can climb through the mammoth gothic stone arches and wooden scaffolding that housed the Leviathan of Parsonstown in Second Life. You see the Second Life version in the first picture.
In Second Life, the International Year of Astronomy is being celebrated in the Astronomy 2009 sim, which is in a cluster of science-oriented islands known as SciLands. There is a section devoted to astrophotography, with photographs on display that show both distance objects in space as well as scenes on Earth, such as two photographs from Iran, one showing the moon behind the surviving columns of the ruins of Persepolis and the other a striking long-exposure shot showing stars’ motion over a barren landscape.
In addition to astrophotography, there is a gallery of space art, often fanciful visions of the future and of space. One display is shown in the second photo. You can also watch podcasts about astronomy and a movie about the history of the telescope, though neither was working the day I visited.
There are also over three hundred space-themed textures available for free; some of them are shown in the picture on the right.
Other features of Astronomy 2009 are the holodeck, in which you can materialize either the courtyard of the house where Galileo lived under house arrest or an urban street where you can experiment with different types of lighting.
Second Life members can experience the International Year of Astronomy by teleporting to slurl.com/secondlife/Astronomy%202009/130/215/32, You can also get on a list to learn of upcoming events by clicking on one of the informational kiosks that you’ll find all over Astronomy 2009.