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12 June 2009
7/2009
Commemorative Issue

Astronomy

Norway
In 2009, it is 400 years since Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) pointed a telescope at the sky and saw that the Earth was only one of many planets and not the centre of the universe.

His observation was the start of a revolution which changed Man's perception of the world for ever. The United Nations has proclaimed 2009 the International Year of Astronomy and astronomy is also the theme of this year's Europa stamps. The word astronomy comes from Greek and means the science of celestial bodies. However astronomy is more than that. It also combines other sciences and uses them to study everything that is to be found outside our own planet. Astronomy is thus the most comprehensive of all sciences.

The Greek philosopher Aristoteles (384-322 BC) believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe and that all the celestial bodies circled round it. Aristoteles was highly respected and his ideas were quickly accepted. Many hundreds of years were to pass before anyone was able to challenge Aristoteles' geocentric theory. Towards the end of the Middle Ages more and more importance was being attached to accurate scientific observation in astronomy. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was the first to understand the true order of the planets in the solar system. The Earth was not the centre of the universe but the third planet from the Sun.

Galileo Galilei's observations in 1609 were the final breakthrough for the theory that the Sun is the centre of the universe. Although his book, Dialogue concerning the Two Chief World Systems, describes how the planets orbit round the Sun, it was still not known why they do so. Enter Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who developed laws of motion and gravitation and established that gravity depends on the object's mass. An object with a greater mass will attract a smaller object. The planets are therefore held in orbit round the Sun by the Sun's gravitation. Newton's ideas were ground-breaking, but his theories about gravity did not explain everything. More details fell into place when Albert Einstein (1879-1955) established his theory of relativity in 1905.

More recently, the space race between the Soviet Union and the USA marked the start of some amazing space exploration. Astronomers will claim that the zenith (so far) was reached in 1990 with the launching of the giant Hubble space telescope. After its initial problems ('nearsightedness'), the telescope has been an enormous success. Photos have been taken of stars being born, of black holes and of supernovas (stellar explosions). The minute these fantastic photos have been taken, NASA makes them available to us all on the Internet.

Solar explosion  

Solar explosion

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The stamp shows an explosion on the Sun. As a result of such explosions, solar storms occur. These are streams of charged particles ejected from the Sun, usually at relatively low speeds but sometimes considerably faster. Clouds of electrons and protons are hurled towards Earth and this can affect, for example, space satellites.

Moon  

Moon

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The average distance from the Moon to the Earth is 384,400 km. It is always the same side of the Moon that faces the Earth. The first men on the Moon were American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin, who landed there with Apollo 11 on 21 July 1969.

Solar explosion and Moon  

Solar explosion and Moon

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The subject of the miniature sheet is a solar eclipse, where the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun. The graphic presentation on both the miniature sheet and the FDC shows the planets in our solar system, with their relative size, surrounded by the largest moons. The table gives their maximum and minimum distances from the Sun and the number of years it takes the planets to circle the Sun.

Cancellation Stamps

Technical Information

Numbers: NK 1721
copyright notice: The source of the text and the images is Norway Post.
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