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Africa and Astronomy. Charles H. McGruder III Western Kentucky University Chair of the International Committee of the National Society of Black Physicists. Outline. Background Astronomers and Telescopes in Africa NASSP – National Astrophysics and Space Science Program African Telescope

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Africa and Astronomy

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Africa and astronomy

Africa and Astronomy

Charles H. McGruder III

Western Kentucky University

Chair of the International Committee of the National Society of Black Physicists



  • Background

  • Astronomers and Telescopes in Africa

  • NASSP – National Astrophysics and Space Science Program

  • African Telescope

  • African Astronomical Society (AfAS)

  • South Africa: SAAO, Sutherland and SALT

  • Africa and SKA

African population

African Population

  • Second most-populous continent after Asia.

  • Rapid Population Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Current: 800 million

  • 2050: 1.7 billion

  • End of Century: 3 billion

  • Fasting Growing area in Population in 21st Century

  • African statistics

    African Statistics

    • Religion (2050)

    • As many Muslims as in Asia

    • more than ½ of the world’s Christians

    • Second-largest continent

    • 3 x USA



    • South Africa: 60

    • Nigeria: 20-25

    • Rest of Africa: 20

    • Total: 100



    • 16 research grade optical telescopes

    • South Africa: 11, Namibia: 3: Egypt: 1, Burkina Faso: 1

    • Two Radio Telescopes: Nigeria and South Africa

    How does one increase the number of african astronomers

    How does one increase the number of African astronomers?

    • South African answer

    • Create a central well-funded pipeline to the PhD.

    • National Astrophysics and Space Science Program (NASSP)



    • Purpose: to “Create an African network of astronomers bonded by the common experience of schooling and interlinked both professionally & personally”.



    • Housed at the University of Cape Town (UCT)

    • UCT ,146 top university in world, #1 in Africa

    • Panafrican: 43% of students non-South African

    • Professors come from 12 SA institutions

    • 2003-2009: 94 honors, 60% Master’s/PhD



    • Not enough PhD supervisors



    • NASSP: 60% go on to Master’s/PhD

    • Ethiopia: 22 Master’s in Astrophysics no supervisors in observational astronomy

    • Kenya: 20 students in first year astronomy

    Easing the bottleneck

    Easing the Bottleneck

    • Non-African supervisors

    • No brain drain

    • Can work?

    • Workshop in January 2011 at AAU.

    Easing the bottleneck1

    Easing the Bottleneck

    • How can we attract supervisors?

    • Providing a first rate African Telescope

    • Working with Swedes for money

    African telescope

    African Telescope

    • Train the next generation of African astronomers

    • Contribution to modern astronomy.

    • Robotic telescope of 2-3 meters in diameter, photometric and spectroscopic

    African telescope1

    African Telescope

    • Sensitive to the near infrared

    • We need to be high and dry

    • Africa has mountains ranges with high mountains

    High mountains of africa

    High Mountains of Africa

    • Kilimanjaro (5,895 m), Tanzania

    • Kenya (5,199 m), Kenya

    • Stanley (5,119 m), Congo-Uganda

    • Speke (4,890 m), Congo-Uganda

    • Baker (4,844 m), Congo-Uganda

    • Emin (4,798 m), Congo-Uganda

    • Gessi (4,715 m), Congo-Uganda

    • Luigi di Savoia (4,627 m), Congo-Uganda

    • Luigi di Savoia (4,627 m), Congo-Uganda

    • Mount Meru (4,566 m), Tanzania

    • Ras Dejen (4,533 m), Ethiopia

    • Mount Karisimbi (4,507 m), Rwanda-Congo

    African telescope2

    African Telescope



    Ethiopian statistics

    Ethiopian Statistics

    • Population: 75,000,000

    • Capital: Addis Ababa, population 2.7 million

    • Religion:

      • 50% Muslim,

      • 50% Christian

    • Landmass: Somewhat larger than Alaska, Texas and California combined

    Education in ethiopia

    Education in Ethiopia

    • Language: Amharic

    • 1- 6 grades: Amharic

    • English: 1st or kindergarden (cities)

    • 7th & university: English

    • Literacy: 40%

    • Primary school: 45%

    Universities in ethiopia

    Universities in Ethiopia

    • Current Total: 22

    • New Total: 32 in 2 years

    • Golden Opportunity: Critical Need for PhDs to man universities

    Astronomers in ethiopia

    Astronomers in Ethiopia

    • One PhD astrophysicist, Legesse Wetro Kebede.

    • In USA for 9 years

    • Research Area: Pulsars (Theory)

    • Produced 22 Masters in astrophysics in 15 years

    • Current: 4 PhD students and 3 Masters students

    Direction of ethiopian astronomy

    Direction of Ethiopian Astronomy

    • Observational Astronomy

    • Started site observations in November 2009

    • David Buckley from SAAO set up DIMM

    • Need DIMMs for Ethiopia. Five potential sites

    Why african telescope in ethiopia

    Why African Telescope in Ethiopia

    • Presumably high photometric quality

    • Strong backing of Addis Ababa University

    • Strong Ethiopian government support

    • Long tradition of Sweden supporting Ethiopia

    Ethiopian government support

    Ethiopian Government Support

    • AtoTefera, Minister of Capacity Building

    • Under him: Ministry of Education, which funds Ethiopian universities

    • Is an amateur astronomer

    • With Kebede founded Ethiopian Space Society

    Ethiopia as an astronomical site

    Ethiopia as an astronomical site

    • Ethiopian highlands cover about 2/3 of Ethiopia, surrounded by desert.

    • Ras Dashen is highest peak at 4,620 m or 15,158 feet (13N,38E).

    • Proposed site near Lalibela (12N, 39E). Altitude: 3,600 m

    Namibian statistics

    Namibian Statistics

    • Population: 2.1 million

    • Namibia has the second-lowest population density, after Mongolia

    • 2.5/square kilometer

    • Area=Texas +Louisiana

    • ½ population earns less than $1.25/day

    Gamsberg data

    Gamsberg Data

    • Altitude 2347 m

    • Area 2.3 sq km

    • Seeing 1”

    • 220 cloudless nights

    • Longitude: 16.23 East

    • Latitude: 23.34 South

    • 120 km southwest of Windhoek

    Photometric nights

    Photometric Nights



    African astronomical society afas

    African Astronomical Society (AfAS)

    • Needed to steer the build-up of astronomy in Africa.

    • Required because funding is coming through African Union (AU). So Panafrican organization needed.

    Afas vision statement

    AfAS Vision Statement

    • To grow the astronomical profession in Africa to a highly recognized international level.

    Afas vision statement1

    AfAS Vision Statement

    • to organize and network the community of African research astronomers,

    • to advocate for more resources for astronomy research,

    • to grow the number of African astronomers doing research at Africa-based telescopes, and

    • to better bridge the African astronomical community to the global astronomical research community.

    South africa

    South Africa

    Southern african astronomical observatory saao

    Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO)

    • #1 research facility in Africa.

    • Located since 1820 in Cape Town

    • Budget $4.5 M

    • 105 staff, 22 PhDs, 36 engineers and technical personnel



    • Altitude: 1800 m

    • Seeing: 0.9”

    • Very dark site

    • 75% of nights usable

    • Roughly 50% of the nights are photometric

    Telescopes at sutherland

    Telescopes at Sutherland

    • SALT

    • Five Robotic Telescopes


    • Five non-robotic telescopes

    • 1.9 m, 1.0 m, 0.75 m, 0.5 m, IRSF

    • International:

    • Germany, Japan, Korea, UK, USA

    Africa and astronomy


    Southern african large telescope salt

    Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)

    • Largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere

    • Hexagonal mirror array of 11 meters

    • Low cost

      • $22 M:Construction Costs

      • $9 M: First generation instruments

      • $14M: First 10 years

    Salt timeline

    SALT Timeline

    • Construction phase completed in Nov. 2005

    • Commission phase: end in mid-2010

    • Commissioning science: 11 papers, several in preparation

    • Two major technical hurdles:

      • Image quality (diagnosed and about to be solved)

      • Spectrograph throughput (solved)

    What is ska

    What is SKA?

    • Largest Radio Telescope in World

    • 3,000 Dishes (each 12-15 m in diameter)

    • SKA-Square Kilometer Array

    • Total Area of all 3,000 dishes is a square kilometer

    • Physical Extent: over 3,000 km

    Africa and australia

    Africa and Australia

    • Africa and Australia vying

    • Major international investment, $2.3 billion in construction costs

    • 1/3 from USA, 1/3 from Europe and 1/3 from other countries in SKA consortium

    • The SKA will be one of the largest scientific research facilities in the entire world.

    • Thus Africa or Australia will be number one in radio astronomy on planet earth for many decades.

    Where should ska go

    Where Should SKA Go?

    • It should be decided by the result of physical measurements.

    • Initial investigation no significant difference between Africa or Australia.

    • more rigorous evaluation underway

    • site decision in 2012

    Why should africa host ska

    Why Should Africa Host SKA?

    • Economic Growth

    • Scientific and Technological Growth

    High speed internet without africa

    High Speed Internet Without Africa

    How can ska lead to economic growth

    How can SKA lead to Economic Growth?

    • Broadband internet connectivity.

    • From Study conducted by World Bank - "for every 10% increase in bandwidth for connectivity for developing countries, you get a 1.3% growth in GDP of the host country“

    Economic growth

    Economic Growth?

    • The SKA will drive the development of internet connectivity in both rural and developed areas, thus leading to economic growth.

    • What is the connection between SKA and rural areas?

    • Rural areas to avoid radio interference

    How will ska lead to growth in science and technolgy

    How will SKA lead to Growth in Science and Technolgy?

    • Best scientists and engineers in the world to work in Africa.

    • opportunities for African scientists & engineers cutting edge instrumentation and the most renowned research institutions in the world

    Growth in science and technology

    Growth in Science and Technology

    • SKA opportunity for the development of very high level skills and expertise in Africa.

    • This will allow Africa (for the first time since ancient times) to be a significant contributor to the global knowledge economy.

    Dishes in south africa namibia botswana mauritius mozambique madagascar zambia ghana and kenya

    Dishes in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zambia, Ghana and Kenya

    First signs of growth

    First Signs of Growth

    • 80 graduate students

    • 11 postdoctoral fellows

    • 40 undergraduate students

    • 38 students from other African countries

    • Kenya is introducing astronomy at the University of Nairobi this October.

    First signs of growth ii

    First Signs of Growth II

    • South Africa is building the Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT) consisting of 80 dishes which is a precursor instrument for the SKA.

    • Government from Mauritius is making funds available to assist in the installation and testing of a MeerKAT type telescope.

    What is ska all about for africa

    What is SKA all about for Africa?

    • Encouraging Africa’s youth to go on a do great things in science and engineering - a youth, which will help propel the continent out of poverty.

    What is ska all about for scientists

    What is SKA all about for Scientists?

    • How and when did the first stars and galaxies form in the universe?

    • What is the mysterious dark energy and dark matter that fill the universe?

    • How did the universe, and the galaxies in it, evolve?

    • Was Einstein always right about Gravity?

    • Where did the magnetic fields in the universe come from?

    • Is there life of any sort anywhere else in the universe, and is it intelligent (like us?)

    Another fundamental question of science

    Another Fundamental Question of Science

    • Were did human beings originate?

    • Answered in 2009 in a paper in “Science” entitled: “The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans”.

    • “This analysis indicates that modern human migration originated in southwestern Africa, at 12.5°E and 17.5°S, near the coastal border of Namibia and Angola”.

    Four quarters by t s elliot

    Four Quarters by T.S. Elliot

    • "Little Gidding" (the last of his Four Quartets ).

    • “We shall not cease from explorationAnd the end of all our exploringWill be to arrive where we startedAnd know the place for the first time”.

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