Astronomy office opens in SA

Cape Town - The minister of science and technology has launched the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Global Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) in Cape Town.

The IAU decided in 2010 that SA would host the OAD after proposals from several countries were studied.

"Finding a home for the OAD is the first step in the execution of the most ambitious global plan ever conceived in astronomy for development. On the behalf of the IAU, I congratulate the SAAO and wish the new OAD every success in this exciting and important new venture," said the IAU President Robert Williams at the time.

On Saturday, minister of science and technology Naledi Pandor launched the OAD office at the SAAO in Observatory, Cape Town.

"In South Africa, people in the astronomy field, from those working on the ground to the highest levels of government, share the vision that astronomy will play a significant role in the development of society," said Pandor.

Education


SA is well placed to deliver sustainable education and development is astronomy with the placement of the Salt (Southern African Large Telescope) and MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) radio telescope programme in the Northern Cape province.

The MeerKAT also forms part of the country's bid to host the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) which will enable astronomers to gaze up to 12 billion years back in time.

"The SAAO is the prestigious home of several world-leading research telescopes, such as Salt, and has pioneered a unique programme of education and outreach at all levels," said IAU Vice-President George Miley, responsible for astronomy development and education.

"We are delighted at the confidence expressed in us by the IAU and very excited to have the opportunity to extend what we have been doing locally to a global scale.

"Astronomy is all about partnerships, and we look forward to strengthening those we already have, as well as to building new ones, as we use astronomy as a vehicle to introduce science and technology to a new generation," said SAAO director Professor Phil Charles when the announcement was made.

The department of science and technology has been investing in several science projects under Pandor's tenure and she has referred to the SKA bid as "our grand challenge".

The OAD is a partnership between the IAU and the South African National Research Foundation to co-ordinate a range of activities designed to use astronomy as a tool for education and development around the world.

Development


"Astronomy has incredible potential to impact on the developmental aspirations of Africa and the rest of the world. It is appropriate that this global coordinating office be situated in Sub-Saharan Africa as this is a focus region for the IAU's strategic plan," said IAU president Professor Robert Williams.

The OAD aims to engage the community to use astronomy to aid development in Africa and internationally.

"I look forward to interacting with the broader astronomy community, both amateur and professional, to see how we can together realise the incredible potential of astronomy for development," said Kevin Govender, the first Director of the OAD.


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