Kimberley - The Southern African Large Telescope (Salt) in the Northern Cape has succeeded in not only placing South Africa and the continent on the global science map but has also propelled the small town of Sutherland into a tourism hub.
This emerged during the Salt conference, that was opened by Science and Technology Minister, Naledi Pandor, on Monday.
Sivuyile Manxoyi, from the South African Astronomy Observatory (SAAO) said while the tiny town of Sutherland had been stagnant in terms of socio-economic development before the construction of Salt, the town had gone from having two bed-and-breakfast establishments to having more than 40 options for accommodation following the construction of the telescope.
“Sutherland has become a tourist destination, something that would have been unheard of before Salt. Now, between 10 000 and 12 000 tourists visit the area every year,” Manxoyi said.
He added that even more importantly, Salt had presented an ideal opportunity to promote astronomy, mathematics, physical science and chemistry as subjects for study and career options.
Manxoyi said the SAAO was providing guidance to teachers all over the country on the teaching of astronomy and building enthusiasm for mathematics and science.
“The observatory was also interacting with thousands of pupils, taking them to observatories and involving them in science clubs and star-gazing events. Through creating awareness about astronomy, the future of the impoverished region would be vastly improved,” he added.
Speaking earlier at the conference, Pandor said astronomical sciences were an important facet of South Africa’s strategy for research, development and innovation, and that astronomy partnerships presented unique and invaluable opportunities.
“Such partnerships build infrastructure for astronomy and for wider use. Big telescopes require high-speed research networks and computing resources, which, in turn, enable our life and climate scientists to share and analyse huge data sets – a precondition for the development of new drugs and vaccines – as well as effectively combating and adapting to climate change,” Pandor said, adding that astronomy partnerships had also helped to popularise the study of astronomy in Africa and further afield.
“As a result of the various human capital development programmes associated with Africa's SKA (Square Kilometre Array) initiatives, new astronomy programmes have been established at several African universities, including in Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique,” the minister said.
“Under other programmes, several postgraduate students from Africa are studying at European universities, contributing to Europe's knowledge generation, while leading European and American astronomers have taken up positions in Africa, for example through the South African Research Chairs Initiative.”
She also said astronomy was expanding Africa’s future workforce of scientists and engineers.
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