The International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced that the 32nd General Assembly of the IAU in 2024 will be hosted by Cape Town, South Africa. This will be the first time in the 105 year history of the IAU that the General Assembly will be held on the African continent. The award recognises the incredible strides that African astronomy has taken in recent years.
The South African astronomical community in collaboration with the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), and with strong support from the South African Government and astronomy stakeholders across the African continent, last week formally invited the IAU to Africa at the 30th IAU GA currently being held in Vienna, Austria.
Africa has a long and rich relationship with astronomy, dating back millenia. The world recognised the unique geographical importance of Africa in global astronomy almost two centuries ago with the establishment of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope in 1820. Since then Africa’s contributions to global human knowledge have both independently and collaboratively grown from strength to strength.
The beginning of the 21st Century has seen a renewal of Africa’s strong heritage of astronomical excellence. The IAU has held Middle East and Africa Regional Meetings since 2008. The Entoto Observatory in Ethiopia, has been operating as an independent research centre since 2013.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, congratulated the IAU bid committee for their sterling work, saying the winning bid was proof that Africa was the next big hub for astronomy.
“I am delighted that the international community is recognising the investments and concerted efforts that South Africa has been making in growing the discipline of astronomy in Africa. We welcome this positive endorsement by the IAU and we will do our best to support the planning process to ensure that the 2024 IAU General Assembly in Cape Town will be a resounding success,” said Minister Kubayi-Ngubane.
“The award recognises the incredible strides that African astronomy has taken in recent years,” the Minister added. “The occasion will give voice to Africa in the global astronomical endeavour, and will bring attention to the excellent science and education conducted on the continent. The opportunity for many African astronomers to take part in one of the world’s biggest astronomy meetings will contribute to an enduring legacy of astronomy on the continent.”
Held every three years, the IAU General Assembly is the biggest international meeting of the astronomy community and relevant to policy makers in this discipline. The last General Assembly, which was attended by more than 3 000 participants, took place in Hawaii in 2015. The next General Assembly will be held in South Korea in 2021, followed by Cape Town in 2024.
Since the establishment of the IAU’s global Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) in 2011, Africa has become the home of three such regional offices coordinating activities across East Africa from Ethiopia, West Africa from Nigeria, and and Southern Africa from Zambia. The mandate of the regional offices is to ensure that the region benefits maximally from the practice of astronomy. In 2017, the 1-metre Marly telescope was installed in Burkina Faso as a research telescope as part of the University of Ouagadougou.
Africa is also host to the world-renowned HESS telescope in Namibia. The continent is developing the very exciting African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN), and a number of countries are rapidly developing their own astronomy programmes and instruments. At the General Assembly which was held in Vienna in August 2018, Algeria, Ghana, Madagascar, Morocco and Mozambique all became new national members of the IAU.
Today, Africa is home to the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere (SALT), the largest and most powerful radio telescope in the southern hemisphere (MeerKAT) and will play host to a large part of the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Project, whose African partnership includes Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.
The winning bid is particularly timeous as the SKA telescope is expected to start conducting science observations in the mid-2020s.
“The support for the bid from not only astronomers but also industry, academic institutions and government has been phenomenal, and its success is a testament to what we can accomplish through our united efforts. For astronomers, this is like winning the bid to host a Football World Cup or the Olympics. It’s time for Africa! We are excited and look forward to welcoming our colleagues from around the world to the first of hopefully many IAU General Assemblies on African soil,” says Dr Shazrene Mohamed, member of the bid committee, and astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory and the University of Cape Town.
The General Assembly in Cape Town in 2024 is an occasion to give voice to Africa in the global astronomical endeavour, and will bring attention to the excellent science and education conducted on the continent. It is expected that the opportunity for many African astronomers to take part in one of the world’s biggest astronomy meetings will contribute to an enduring legacy of astronomy on the continent.
The South African Radio Astronomical Observatory (SARAO) and the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) collaborated at the IAU General Assembly in Vienna to demonstrate the multi-wavelength astronomy applications and research that is being done in South Africa.
The recently revealed Centre of the Milky Way Galaxy panorama was displayed at the exhibition, obtained with the new MeerKAT radio telescope revealing extraordinary detail in the region surrounding the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy. This is one of several very exciting new views of the Universe already observed by the telescope.
Shazrene Mohamed: 021 201 5170; firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel Cunnama: 021 201 5169; email@example.com