NASRDA Makes Astronomy History
As Nigeria Becomes W. African HQs For World Body
A VISITING top-level official of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has termed Nigeria’s formal designation, as the world regulatory body’s West African headquarters, “a turning point” in the evolution of African astronomy.
“It opens up new and promising possibilities,” said Kevin Govender, head of the IAU’s Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) at Cape Town, South Africa, “both for the IAU and for the advancement of astronomy in West Africa.”
Govender, who presided over the ceremony at Nsukka, spoke with The Guardian via cell-phone, from Nsukka. He said the event marked the onset of regional activities in Nigeria, and that country coordinators from Gabon, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Ghana were present.
Now that the formalities are over,”Govender said, “we’re getting down to business. In fact, the country coordinators held their first meeting after the ceremony.
“So, we are pressing ahead with our agenda,” he continued, “which is to hold workshops, promote research and generally raise the profile of astronomy in the sub-region”.
An OAD statement, e-mailed to The Guardian, placed the venue at the Centre for Basic Space Sciences (CBSS), Nsukka. But the Centre’s director, Professor F.E. Opara, could not be reached for comment.
In a phone interview, Opara’s deputy, Dr. Bonaventure Okere, said the inauguration coincided with the First Nigerian Astronomy and Space Science Forum, also held at CBSS.
“There are so many things happening,” said Okere, Coordinator of OAD activities for NASRDA, “and now, with Nigeria’s formal entry into the mainstream of global astronomy, the pace is bound to quicken. We may be on the verge of a Golden Age. But a lot will depend on what we do in this office.”
According to the e-mailed blurb, IAU set up the Office of Astronomy for Development, in partnership with the South African National Research Foundation; and the facility opened officially in 2011, at South Africa’s main Astronomical Observatory, in Cape Town.
So far, the statement noted, nine regional offices have been established: those being Armenia, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand and Zambia.
“Nigeria was the logical choice to become our West African headquarters,” said Govender, an ethnic Indian, “because NASRDA has done so much, especially in the area of radio astronomy. The bulk of the region’s astronomy-related skills are concentrated in Nigeria.”
Ghana apparently is also advancing swiftly. “It is currently erecting a radio telescope with a 32-meter receiving dish,” Govender said, “which is scheduled to come online sometime in 2016.”
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