“When we talk about advancing the astronomy agenda on this continent, it’s more than just advancing the field of astronomy for us,” said Kevin Govender, director of the Astronomy Authority at a meeting during the World Science Forum, which was held in South Africa from 6 to 9 December 2022.
“We know from our experience that the growth of astronomy can be associated with the growth of development in the region, so that we can use astronomy to stimulate the development of skills, to stimulate economic activity.”
His comments came as construction began at sites in South Africa and Australia on the Square Kilometer Array telescope, which is expected to be the world’s largest when completed in 2028.
Africa currently hosts the Large South African Telescope in Sutherland, the MeerKAT and MeerLICHT radio telescope in the Northern Cape of South Africa, the Oukaimeden Observatory in Morocco, the Entoto Observatory in Ethiopia, and the High Energy Stereoscopic System in Namibia.
“The total number of PhD astronomers in Africa is about 300, compared to 600 in the UK,” says Tebe Medupe, president of the African Astronomical Society (AfAS).
“However, Africa is still extremely underrepresented from the point of view of professional astronomers, despite the fact that we have these objects that are emerging and participating in cutting-edge astronomical research.”
Medupe called for initiatives to invest in training more African astronomers, and to expand and strengthen the small research teams that already exist and expand their capabilities to as many African countries as possible.
“We don’t want Africa to end up producing data and sending it to Europe,” he says.
Mirjana Povich, associate professor at the Ethiopian Institute of Space Science and Technology, said that over the past ten years, amazing progress has been made in development, resulting in more than 70 different associations, societies, amateur associations across the continent, which are constantly involved in the promotion of astronomy on all possible levels.
There is also a lack of funding and support from local governments across the continent, Povich said, and astronomy is still not accessible to everyone in many African countries.
“We still have a lot of work to do in terms of awareness among political decision makers about why astronomy is important for Africa’s growth and integration,” says Povich.
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