The international astronomy community has decided to base its new 10-year programme to promote astronomy in the developing world in South Africa. The new International Astronomical Union (IAU) Office for Astronomy Development will be at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town. This positions South Africa as a leader in an ambitious global strategy to bring astronomy to developing countries across the world.
Shaking hands on the new IAU Astronomy Development Office: Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, President of NRF and IAU General Secretary Ian Corbett. [Photo credit: IAU]
Following the selection of South Africa from 20 other proposals from around the world, an agreement was signed between the IAU and South Africa's National Research Foundation (NRF) on 10 July 2010.
"I am particularly pleased that our Executive Committee chose South Africa and the SAAO," said Professor George Miley, IAU Vice President for Development and Education. "South Africa is a role model for us because it combines world-class astronomical research facilities with a pioneering programme of astronomical outreach."
Dr Ian Corbett, General Secretary of the IAU noted that: "This is the start of something really new and challenging, but also something which should have profound, far-reaching long term consequences for us all and not just for developing countries. It is wonderful that South Africa has joined with the IAU in this endeavour, and has demonstrated the determination and commitment necessary to make this a success."
The SKA South Africa Project will work closely with this new office to use astronomy as a unique and inspirational gateway to build science, engineering and technology capacity in Africa. Kevin Govender of the SAAO, who was instrumental in preparing South Africa's proposal for hosting the IAU Office for Astronomy Development, emphasised that this office would not serve Africa only, but rather all developing regions of the world, but added that "its new home brings prestige to the whole African continent and puts Africa in the driving seat of developing astronomy".
The Office for Astronomy Development will set out to build on the momentum of the IAU-UNESCO International Year of Astronomy 2009, whose activities reached millions of people in 148 countries. Although the focus will be on developing regions, the involvement and participation of all countries around the world will be essential, both to build the field of astronomy and to realise the significant role that astronomy can play in development. Support for the Office comes from the IAU and the South African Department of Science and Technology.