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Astronomers gather in Cape Town for Africa-focused astronomy event

Participants of the second annual African Astronomical Society at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town on Monday. Picture: AfAS

Participants of the second annual African Astronomical Society at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town on Monday. Picture: AfAS

Published Mar 16, 2022

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Cape Town - The South African Astronomical Observatory opened the conference for the second annual African Astronomical Society (AfAS) on Monday, when the Pan-African professional society for astronomers gathered for a four-day event focused on astronomy in Africa – from science and education to outreach activities.

The conference will end on March 18.

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It aims to expand access to astronomy for socio-economic development and is focused on ways to attract young people, and women, to astronomy.

AfAS head of secretariat Charles Takalana said: “Astronomy is still not a well known field of study; only a handful of learners can attest to having interacted with an astronomer, thus not every child grows up knowing of astronomy as a career path they could follow, unlike with other streams.”

He said some young people learnt about it at university through programmes such as the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme, but most programmes in primary and high schools did not allow enough time to engage with astronomy content meaningfully – if at all.

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This was where this conference came in, Takalana said. He said it aimed to showcase the work done on the African continent in astronomy, not only in the scientific areas but in outreach through science engagement and education.

Participants of the second annual African Astronomical Society at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town yesterday. Picture: AfAS

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande said in his address to the participants: “Although this is the second installation of AfAS, astronomy is not new to our continent. The early societies of Africa were among the first groups of people to show a keen interest in the stars and planets, and they even named the celestial bodies while studying them for both astrological and astronomical purposes. Rightfully so, I can claim that Africa is the home of astronomy.”

Nzimande said astronomy was used as an enabler to address societal challenges – as was shown through AfAS, the International Astronomical Union Office for Astronomy Development, and the African Planetarium Association’s funding of small astronomy projects that enabled communities to overcome some of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Some of these projects included remote teaching and learning during school closures, engaging elementary and high school children through art, and providing the families of students with hygienic supplies while also including educational, astronomy-based material for the children and their families.

The conference is also hosting planetarium shows at the Planetarium at Iziko Museums on Wednesday, and its African Women in Astronomy Awards at the South African Astronomical Observatory on Thursday.

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