The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has signed an agreement with the Copperbelt University (CBU) in Zambia to host a Southern African regional node of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD). This is the second regional node to be established on the African continent and forms part of the IAU’s decadal strategic plan, which aims to realise the global societal benefits of astronomy. The signing follows the approval of a proposal from CBU which enjoyed the support of astronomy collaborators in Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and South Africa, including the South African Square Kilometre Array Project Office.
The IAU strategic plan was ratified by its members in 2009, at its General Assembly. Since then a global coordinating office (the OAD) was established in Cape Town, South Africa, and has led the implementation of this plan. Other regional nodes have already been established in China for the East Asian region, Thailand for the South East Asian region and Ethiopia for the East African region.
The establishment of this Southern African regional node is significant as this part of the continent is currently very active in terms of the development of world-class astronomy facilities, including the optical Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the radio Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT), the gamma-ray High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) as well as the Square Kilometre Array. The office in Zambia will exploit all these advantages to benefit the region at large.
Director of the OAD, Kevin Govender, comments on the signing of this agreement: “Zambia is ideally positioned to play a leadership role in this field. Not only is it a part of the Square Kilometre Array project, but its consistent commitment to develop astronomy capacity nationally serves as an example to other countries in the region. Since the International Year of Astronomy in 2009 we have seen Zambia represented in various global astronomy education and outreach projects. Their experience and dedication to the field of astronomy will be a great benefit to the region.”
This office will also reach out to other countries in Africa which, like Zambia, form part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project. This is a key task to ensure that all countries involved in the SKA have the skills and personnel required both to derive maximum benefit from the major telescope project and to help make the SKA a scientific success.
The Dean of the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Copperbelt University, Professor F. P. Tailoka adds: “The Copperbelt University and the country at large are delighted to host the Southern African Regional Office of Astronomy for Development. We are pleased to be part of the implementation of the IAU’s strategic plan. We are a partner country of the Square Kilometre Array which gives us an opportunity to participate in world-class astronomy research. We look forward to see the Zambian community, and the rest of the region, realising the benefits of astronomy.”
Signing the agreement on behalf of the IAU, Assistant General Secretary Piero Benvenuti said:
"Astronomy is possibly the most ancient science and the IAU is committed to maintain and spread worldwide this precious heritage. But astronomy is not only pure science, it is a fascinating cultural adventure that engages the entire society and brings many benefits. It has a powerful attraction for young people, encouraging them to follow mathematical and scientific curricula, and it fosters advanced technological developments."
This agreement follows the IAU’s Announcement of Opportunity which remains open to letters of intent and proposals from all around the world to host similar nodes. The partners of this regional node will establish a steering committee which consists of relevant expertise and representation.
The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together almost 11 000 distinguished astronomers from more than 90 countries. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.
The IAU established the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) in partnership with the South African National Research Foundation (NRF). The OAD was officially opened on 16 April 2011 at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa. Since then three Regional Nodes, one Language Expertise Centre and three Task Forces have been established. In 2012 the first of the open annual Call for Proposals was launched for each of the task forces: Universities and Research (TF1); Children and Schools (TF2); and Public Outreach (TF3).
The Copperbelt University was established as a Public University by Act of Parliament No. 19 on 1 December 1987. It is Zambia’s second largest public university, located in Kitwe in the Copperbelt Province. The Copperbelt University has seven schools (faculties) offering programmes in natural sciences, engineering, mining, medicine and business studies. The current number of students enrolled stands at around 13 000. The School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences was established in June 2008 with a vision to become a recognised centre of excellence committed to the advancement of mathematical and scientific knowledge, innovations, and the exemplary teaching/learning of mathematics and sciences.
Director, IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD)
Cape Town, South Africa
Tel: +27 21 460 9350
Cell: +27 82 487 8466
Ms Grace Sampa
The Copperbelt University
Cell: +260 9535 28090
The Copperbelt University - School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences
Cell: +260 968 585858
Assistant General Secretary, International Astronomical Union
Raquel Yumi Shida
IAU Press Officer Deputy
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 320 06 177