IYA2009 report

Developing Astronomy Globally

Summarized Report for IYA2009

1. Background

The Developing Astronomy Globally (DAG) Cornerstone Project was initiated during the Communicating Astronomy with the Public (CAP) Conference in 2007. It’s inclusion on the IYA2009 agenda was in order to ensure that IYA2009 benefits those countries which do not have strong astronomical communities. Specifically the goals of DAG were: (i) to use the momentum of IYA to stimulate the establishment and enhancement of regional structures/networks around the world that would focus on the development of astronomy. These structures would support current and future development work of the IAU and other programmes; and (ii) Ensure sufficient reach and benefit of IYA and other cornerstones to developing regions.

Adopting a regional approach DAG looked at the following 8 regions, according to the IAU breakdown for development:

* Region 1: North America

* Region 2: Latin America (including Central America and the Caribbean)

* Region 3: Europe

* Region 4: Middle East and North Africa

* Region 5: Sub-Saharan Africa

* Region 6: Central Asia

* Region 7: Far East and South-East Asia

* Region 8: Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand)

The three focus areas were: 1. Professional development: This would address tertiary education, research training and research infrastructure in order to build professional astronomy research capacity within the country. 2. Development of public understanding of astronomy: This would target the general public and take the form of activities and events that stimulate an interest in astronomy. This focus area includes the development of an amateur astronomy community. 3. School-level education development: This would address primary and secondary education. It would focus on taking astronomy to the classroom (and beyond e.g. younger children through UNAWE) and stimulating an interest in Mathematics and Science amongst young people.

From the outset DAG was seen as a project to kick off activities which would last well beyond 2009. As such it was aligned with the IAU’s strategic plan for development (entitled “Astronomy for the Developing World”). As of August 2010, DAG projects were still very much on the go with activities set to be handed over from the volunteers driving the cornerstone to the IAU’s Office for Astronomy Development.

2. Human Resources

The cornerstone was initially driven through volunteer effort with the task group comprising Kevin Govender (South Africa, SAAO – chair of DAG); Norio Kaifu (Japan, NAOJ); Filipe Pires (Portugal, Universidade do Porto); Barbara Villone (Italy, INAF); Ana Lopes (Portugal, Nature); Dan Hillier (UK, ROE); and Hakim L. Malasan (Indonesia, Institut Teknologi Bandung). Due to the wide reach of DAG and the amount of coordination required, extra human resources were necessary to cover the gaps which the volunteer time could not. Through funding from the IYA2009 secretariat the cornerstone really took off following the appointment of Mr Lolan Naicker on a half time basis. Mr Naicker was based at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa, and contributed significantly to the project during his one year term (December 2008 to December 2009). Another extremely important person in the project was a Japanese volunteer, Mr Jun Takahashi, who spent 5 months at the SAAO (September 2009 to January 2010) mainly at his own cost. All these people continue to be involved in the projects on an ad hoc basis.

3. Global Astronomy Survey

Coordinated from South Africa, DAG started off by conducting a global astronomy “self-evaluation” survey targeting mainly underdeveloped regions. The purpose of the survey was to establish a “bottoms-up” evaluation of the state of astronomy in any given country. This data could then be used to plan development activities both for the country and for the region, and was subsequently used in other DAG projects. Focus areas of the survey were threefold: professional, public and school level. Participants in the survey were asked to rank their countries within each focus area and provide associated explanations and descriptions of the local situations. This survey or self evaluation continues to grow with a dynamic user controlled webpage for each country on the DAG website. Currently these surveys have been completed for 58 countries across the world and are freely available for viewing on the DAG website. Comments, modifications and updates are always encouraged.

4. African Students at IYA2009 opening

Early in the year DAG coordinated the attendance of African students at the IYA2009 opening event in Paris. This project involved selecting students from 5 African countries and arranging all travel logistics to get them to the opening ceremony. Funds were provided by UNESCO and feedback from the students was extremely positive. This project set the DAG team in motion and prepared them for the management of funds on an international level, a non-trivial task when one considers the laws governing the movement of large sums of money across borders. This experience was to prove invaluable in the implementation of the next major DAG project…

5. Seed grants for the stimulation of astronomy

In April 2009 the IAU and UNESCO, through the IYA2009 secretariat, provided funding to support IYA2009 related projects and activities in developing regions – essentially small grants that would be used to “seed” astronomy projects in target countries. A call for proposals was sent out to Single Points of Contact around the world via the DAG cornerstone. There were 38 applicants who responded. The selection committee, comprising the DAG task group and vetted by the IAU Executive Committee Working Group on IYA2009, waded through an impressive list of quality proposals that included such projects as astronomy education workshops for teachers, the recording and preservation of indigenous astronomy knowledge, the production of school astronomy education resources in local languages and many more. Twelve proposals were eventually selected from the following countries; Macedonia, Nepal, Uganda, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Gabon, Rwanda, Uruguay and Tajikistan. Selections were made based on project alignment with the IYA2009 goals, more specifically the DAG goals, and on needs as indicated by the Global Astronomy Survey. In December 2009, following additional funding being received, four additional Seed Grants were awarded to Ghana, Trinidad-and-Tobago, Mozambique and Pakistan. This brings the total number of grants up to 16. Some of these projects were delayed for various reasons and are still underway with reports pending. Completed reports, summaries and updates are available on the DAG website.

6. Regional Astronomy Development Workshops

Together with the IAU’s Commission 46, DAG developed a model for regional “astronomy development workshops” and proceeded to raise funds and rally support for a pilot programme in East Africa. In November 2009 this programme was realised in Kenya, thanks to sponsorship by the IAU Commission 46 TAD programme and the International Science Programmes (ISP) of Uppsala University, Sweden, along with invaluable support from the University of Nairobi (UoN) and the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO).

The main objective of these regional initiatives is to stimulate astronomy development activities through empowering local lecturers and students to drive the process themselves. Specific objectives in support of this are:

  • Introduce astronomy topics to inspire students and lecturers to pursue astronomy studies and research
  • Provide basic training to participants on doing astronomy outreach
  • Provide basic training to participants on doing practical astronomy research
  • Network locally and regionally regarding outreach
  • Network locally and regionally on a university research level
  • Set up a regional steering committee to be responsible for astronomy activities into the future
  • Stimulate the formation of student organisations that would support astronomy activities
  • Hold high level discussions with decision makers
  • Identify potential astronomy research students and champions for astronomy development

The Nairobi workshop was attended by 43 people including 29 Kenyans and 14 foreign participants and resource persons. The participants were selected from various universities around Kenya and neighbouring Eastern African countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Each country, was represented by at least one lecturer and one student (if not in the field of astronomy then at least a related field such as Physics or Mathematics). From Kenya there were student-lecturer pairs from 8 higher education institutions. The role of the lecturers would be to investigate the possibility of starting an astronomy programme or module as part of the Physics or Mathematics department at their university. The role of the student was to return to their university and establish a student club or society that could propagate the objectives of astronomy development. Selections were based on references, enthusiasm shown during IYA2009, and on the potential for the person to drive development activities in their country.

The workshop was a blend of lectures at the conference venue, and hands-on laboratory exercises conducted at the University of Nairobi. Presenters included:

  • Ed Guinan: Chair of the IAU’s Commission 46 Teaching for Astronomy Development programme
  • Petri Vaisenen: Astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory
  • Hakeem Oluseyi: Department of Physics and Space Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology
  • Charles McGruder: American Society for Black Physicists/Western Kentucky University
  • Kevin Govender: South African Astronomical Observatory

A high level meeting was also organized between the IAU and the Kenyan Government Policy makers drawn from amongst University Vice Chancellors, College Principals, National Council for Science and Technology, Ministry of Higher Education Science and Technology and Kenya National Academy of Sciences. From the feedback received, both the workshop and the high level meeting were deemed a success and at the end of the workshop participants were issued with certificates of participation. Each country also received one astronomy textbook entitled “Universe: Stars and Galaxies” which would help lecturers to prepare small modules on astronomy or to use it as a reference. Kenya also received a telescope and outreach resources to continue driving astronomy in the region.

Following from this workshop the East African Astronomical Society was established and discussions regarding the development of astronomy in the region continue on a special email list set up for East Africa. The full report for this workshop is available on the DAG website and serves as an example of a regional development activity which could be conducted in other developing regions.

7. Distribution of donated telescopes

There were generous telescope donations made during IYA2009 from the Galileoscope Cornerstone Project and Celestron, with the objective of supporting developing regions. DAG coordinated the process of distribution which included:

  • Issuing a call for requests to all regions of the world
  • Establishing an international selection panel to evaluate requests
  • Coordination of selection process
  • Global distribution of telescopes (this was mainly coordinated by the shipping company Leman USA Inc for the Galileoscopes and Celestron’s various agents for their donations)
  • Consolidating reports of usage

To date, although a large percentage of telescopes have reached the allocated destinations, there are still selected recipients waiting to receive them. Great difficulties have had to be overcome with high transport costs and many challenges with customs and tax issues specific to different regions. However, through coordination of deliveries to regions rather than countries as well as generous donations received for transportation, such as the Armagh Planetarium for example, which sponsored the transport of Celestron telescopes for the Sub-Saharan Africa region, DAG has been able to ensure that the bulk of the telescopes reached their destinations.

Approximately 5200 Galileoscopes have already been shipped to the following countries, either for further distribution to developing regions or usage within the country itself: Turkey; Poland; Germany; Senegal; United Arab Emirates; Romania; Vietnam; Nepal; Jamaica; Serbia; Azerbaijan; Venezuela; Uruguay; Turkey; Albania; Pakistan; France; Kenya. The Galileoscopes for a number of African countries were shipped in bulk to South Africa and arrived in Cape Town in August 2010, with distribution further afield underway at time of writing this text.

Celestron donations included 20 “go-to” Nexstars and 160 of the popular Firstscopes. These were destined for all 8 DAG regions of the world and have been shipped to USA; Brazil; Uruguay; Trinidad & Tobago; Guatemala; Madagascar; Ghana; Kenya; South Africa (to be sent further to Gabon, Rwanda, Mozambique); Nepal; Vietnam; New Zealand.

Reports from recipients will be posted on the DAG website as they are received. Much gratitude and acknowledgement must go to Michelle Meskill of Celestron and the team at Galileoscope including Rick Fienberg (American Astronomical Society), Doug Arion (Carthage College) and Steen Sanderhoff (Leman USA Inc.).

8. Offline Resources

DAG coordinated the consolidation and distribution of “offline” electronic resources which are available on CDs and DVDs and free to copy. These resources are targeted at countries or regions without abundant internet access – the idea is to capture some of the myriad of resources available on the internet in an offline format so that developing regions can benefit. The collection of 9 CDs and DVDs are made up of contributions from other cornerstones and international projects which have produced electronic materials and videos. This collection is dynamic and meant to evolve as new materials are found.

9. Opportunities Database

The DAG website hosts an opportunities database for students and lecturers from developing regions. This has not grown as large as was initially envisaged mainly due to the lack of human resources to drive it. However, it remains a much needed and appreciated resource (judging from feedback received) which can be developed further by the IAU beyond IYA2009.

10. Developing Astronomy in Africa

Since Sub-Saharan Africa was identified as a focus area for development in the IAU strategic plan, DAG set out to follow this lead and pay more attention to this region. This may be evident from the support given to other African countries in other DAG projects. Although there was no bias in terms of strict selection processes mentioned, the preparatory work done with African countries before implementation of other DAG projects highlighted them as ideal target areas. Some of the (humble) efforts in preparatory work include:

1. Email lists: Anyone interested in developing astronomy in Africa have been encouraged to join the Astronomy in Africa email list. There are also regional lists (eastafrica and westafrica) for more region-specific discussons. A space on the DAG website has also been provided for African updates and initiatives. This has proven an invaluable resource for communication amongst relevant stakeholders.

2. Real-time meetings: DAG has coordinated several meetings held to discuss the development of astronomy in Africa. These have usually been held in Cape Town physically and linked to the rest of Africa and the world via Skype. Since the most recent meeting recordings of the full discussion are made available on the DAG website for those who could not attend.

3. 10 Year Plan for Developing Astronomy in Africa: Through numerous discussions with people from across Africa a draft plan has been established for the development of astronomy in Africa over the next decade. This plan is still fluid and open for comment. It is expected that each region in Africa would develop plans which would largely align with this 10 year structure but which would be very specific to their respective regions. The idea is that everything should always be in line with the IAU's decadal strategy for astronomy development. This plan is also available on the DAG website.


In terms of the future of DAG, beyond IYA2009, much of what has been started will feed well into the IAU strategic plan for astronomy in the developing world. Almost all activities have served as pilot projects which demonstrated what could be done in order to develop astronomy globally. The momentum of IYA2009 has been utilised to drive these projects thus far but after 2009 they will have to fall into the hands of the IAU’s Office for Astronomy Development as well as the IAU’s Commission 46 (Astronomy Education and Development).


Last Updated on Saturday, 25 September 2010 00:20
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