The “Total Solar Eclipse 2006” festivity is intended to be an inaugural event for an extensive program, launched by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, to raise the interest and awareness of the public in general and the youth in particular as to the significance of astronomy and astrophysics in our lives. The key target of the program is to enhance the education of the youth in schools by drawing their attention to the more fascinating aspects of science, mathematics and technology, and to the value of space exploration. It is, also the aim of this program to revive the interest in studies and researches in these crucial fields of study, not only in Egypt but in the whole region.
Astronomy, the oldest of all sciences, has a long tradition of practical results that started with simple observation of the movement of the sun, moon and stars, and using the conclusions in defining time, location, and directions on Earth. As time went by, the field of astronomy developed into sophisticated theories about the nature of the universe through extensive study of the celestial bodies, gas, and dust within it. Today, much of the research involves basic exploration to satisfy the curiosity about the universe and its origin, a knowledge that is sure to bring much more practical use to humans.
Astronomy grew out of problems originating with the first civilizations when peoples needed to establish the proper times for planting and harvesting crops. The movement of celestial bodies helped them keep track of time and helped them find bearings on long trading journeys or voyages. Interesting constellation maps and useful calendars were developed by several ancient peoples, notably the Egyptians, the Mayans, and the Chinese, but the Babylonians accomplished even greater achievements in predicting the time of the new moon and the day on which the new month would begin. As a by-product, they knew the daily positions of the moon and sun for every day during the month and in a similar manner the planetary positions were calculated, with their eastward and retrograde motions represented.
The great Greek astronomers achieved milestones of discovery right here in the ancient Library of Alexandria that was the beacon of culture in the ancient world. Greek astronomy was transmitted eastward to the Syrians, the Hindus, and the Arabs. Arabian astronomers then compiled new star catalogs in the 9 th and 10 th centuries and subsequently developed tables of planetary motion, which together with the Arabic translations of Ptolemy's Almagest filtered into Western Europe , stimulating interest in astronomy.
Ever since, astronomic progression migrated to the West and was marked with a dramatic turn in the 16 th century as a result of the contributions of the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus followed by those of the Italian Galileo, the German Kepler and finally the British Newton.
After Newton 's time, astronomy branched out in several directions. With his law of gravitation, the old problem of planetary motion was studied anew as celestial mechanics. Improved telescopes permitted the scanning of planetary surfaces, the discovery of many faint stars, and the measurement of stellar distances. In the 19 th century a new instrument, the spectroscope, yielded information about the chemical composition and motions of heavenly bodies.
During the 20 th century, increasingly larger reflecting telescopes were built and in the second half of the 20 th century, developments in physics led to new classes of astronomical instruments, some of which have been placed on Earth-orbiting satellite observatories. Astronomers began to study not only planets, stars, and galaxies but also plasmas—hot, ionized gases—surrounding double stars, interstellar regions that are the birthplaces of new stars, cold dust grains that are invisible in the optical regions, energetic nuclei of galaxies that may contain black holes, and photons originating from the big bang that may yield information about the early history of the universe.
Today, we in Egypt , the successors of the ancient great astronomers have drifted away from what our ancestors had achieved and have fallen far behind our contemporaries. It is only right that the new Library of Alexandria, the resurrected beacon of culture, takes the initiative to rekindle the interest and awareness of the public to the increasing importance of astronomy and astrophysics, not just to enrich their knowledge of the universe to which we belong with all its wonders, but also to understand where we come from and to where we are heading.
It is crucial that the rising generations understand the value of the study of space sciences and their impact on the evolution of our world. For that reason in particular we aim to launch an extensive program dedicated for the enlightenment of the youth and the enrichment of their knowledge of the sciences, mathematics and technology.
The primary target is to increase the level of interaction with world renowned scientific institutions by hosting high caliber astronomers and astrophysicists to expose the public to valuable lecture series and to conduct specialized workshops and school sessions for the specialized.
The intention is to maximize the benefits of such events and meetings by passing along the outcome through local specialists to the younger public through growing outreach programs that target local educational institutions.
It is the intention to inaugurate this program through the upcoming festivity revolving around the occasion of the "Total Solar Eclipse" that will take place on 29 March 2006. The festivity will target both the specialized and the general public through two different gatherings revolving around one main event, the observation of the total solar eclipse in Al-Saloum.