Ethiopia hosts IAU astronomy office

The office is a first in Africa and aims to develop a global astronomy education network.

FILE: The office is a first in Africa and aims to develop a global astronomy education network.

JOHANNESBURG - The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has signed an agreement with partners in Ethiopia to host the first regional office of astronomy in Addis Ababa.

This is the first arm of the organisation to be established on the African continent and forms part of the IAU's strategic plan which aims to drive global education.

The initiative is based in Cape Town in collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Education, Ethiopian Space Science Society and Addis Ababa University.

Director of Cape Town's IAU Office of Astronomy for Development Kevin Govender says this is an important development for education.

"We are very excited about this collaboration, not only because of the visionary leadership shown within the country in terms of science and technology but also because of the exemplary projects they have embarked on such as the Entoto Observatory and Space Science Research Centre.

"We have worked closely with the region for several years now and this agreement is a significant milestone for the growth and development of astronomy in East Africa."

Govender says the office is part of a process to establish co-ordinating centres around the world dedicated to developing astronomy in various regions. Other regional nodes have already been established in China for the East Asian region and Thailand for the South East Asian region.

"The objective is to use astronomy to stimulate education and development. The biggest challenge we face today in the world is educating people. Education sits at the core of everything, and astronomy is a field that touches on several aspects of society including science, technology and culture."

Ethiopia is also home to the African Union, which, in recent years, has given endorsement to major astronomical projects like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

In February 2011 Ethiopia was host to the East African Regional Workshop of Astronomy, during which time the foundations were secured for the East African Astronomical Society.

This year Ethiopia will commission two 1-metre class telescopes at the Entoto Observatory just outside Addis Ababa - telescopes intended to be used by all astronomers in the region.

Director of the Entoto Observatory, Solomon Belay, describes the importance of this for the region: "The optical astronomical telescopes at Entoto Observatory will be the first of its kind in East Africa and we invite all astronomers and astronomy students in the region to make use of these world class facilities. To develop our region we must strongly link our economies to science - the Entoto Observatory and Ethiopia's hosting of the East African regional node contribute significantly to that goal."