Last March, Christian Marois experienced a “Galileo moment.”

The National Research Council astronomer created images of three Jupiter-sized planets moving around a single star located approximately 130 light years away in the constellation Pegasus.

It was the first time in history humans were actually able to see planets orbiting other stars.

“In the past, there were some that were borderline, but nobody ever found something close to that before,” said Marois. “Planets with mass similar to Jupiter have been found before, but the problem is that they were never orbiting around a star. They were orbiting around something called a brown dwarf.”

Launched Thursday at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) 2009 group is hoping to collect one million Galileo moments from Canadians this year, which was chosen as the year of astronomy to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first observations of space using a telescope.

Canadian IYA executive committee chair Jim Hesser said they don’t have to be quite as significant as discovering a solar system.

“We want to get people to reconnect with the sky,” he said.

“It’s a personal discovery to see something and know that it’s real. It’s not just a photograph from the Hubble space telescope.”

As night becomes brighter from artificial light in cities, people are losing their connection with the sky. Hesser said they are encouraging people to make that connection again, either on their own, at star parties, planetariums or at special concerts.

Canadians can register their Galileo moments on the website and have their name launched into space by the Canadian Space Agency aboard the NEOSSat satellite in 2010.

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