“Finding a home for the OAD is the first step in the execution of the most ambitious global plan ever conceived in astronomy for development. On the behalf of the IAU, I congratulate the SAAO and wish the new OAD every success in this exciting and important new venture,” – IAU President Robert Williams.
This quote marks a very proud moment for South Africa. On the 13th of May 2010 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) chose Professor Phil Charles’ proposal to host the International Office for Astronomy Development at the South African Astronomical Observatory. The SAAO is a facility of the National Research Foundation and it is the national center for optical and infrared astronomy in South Africa.
The Director of the SAAO, Professor Phil Charles, said, “We are delighted at the confidence expressed in us by the IAU and very excited to have the opportunity to extend what we have been doing locally to a global scale. Astronomy is all about partnerships, and we look forward to strengthening those we already have, as well as to building new ones, as we use astronomy as a vehicle to introduce science and technology to a new generation. South Africa has been visionary in exploiting the country’s natural strategic advantage in astronomy and using it as an integral part of its science and technology strategy — we aim to show that the skies are not the limit.”
The OAD will work closely with the IAU to promote public understanding of, and interest in, astronomy.
The SAAO has been dedicating a great deal of time and effort to spreading awareness and developing Astronomy in South Africa. During the 2009 “International Year of Astronomy” the observatory hosted outreach workshops and star gazing evenings for the public and maintained a database of local outreach programs run by smaller organisations. Through these, and many other, projects the SAAO has publicly declared it’s commitment to bringing the wonder and inspiration of astronomy to South Africans of all ages.
You may be wondering why this is so important. While astronomers may appear to be absorbed by the desire to learn more about the universe, you may feel that this is a waste of time. You may feel that knowledge about the universe is far removed from the all too real concerns which South African’s face every day. This could not be further from the truth. For every starry eyed astronomer gazing towards the sky, there is an army of physicists, technicians, engineers, mathematicians and communications workers making his cosmological inquiry possible. Astronomers stand on the shoulders of many skilled people and it is my opinion that this is where the value of astronomy will be realized. The more reasons we can give our young people to study maths and science the better, and a promising career is a hell of a good reason (apart from the buckets of joy which can be experienced when solving a difficult problem or discovering a new cosmological oddity, of course).