Whitepaper In Support of An Act to Establish the African Astronomical Society
In seeking a Charter of incorporation, the African Astronomical Society (AfAS) wishes to strengthen the effectiveness of its resolve and commitment to thegrowth, acquisition and dissemination of astronomical knowledge, and to facilitate the use of astronomy in the solution of problems of national/international interest.
In this paper, in the effort to address the need and appropriateness of a Charter for AfAS, attention will be drawn to some aspects of the development, growth, significance and contributions of astronomical societies, as learned societies. The paper will also consider, in particular, the operations/programmes, its relevance and prospects with regard to national development, as well as its contributions to national and international astronomy.
In this regard, a typical research and development (i.e. R&D) activity is essentially, an engagement for the systematic investigation into and study of materials, sources, etc with a view to establishing facts and hence reaching new conclusions. Alternatively, it may be considered as an exercise for the discovery of new facts or the collation of existing data or information, etc, through the scientific study of a subject or by a process of critical investigation or procedures.
This is particularly true of the vast terrain of astronomy and technology in which tremendous advances with a multitude of discoveries, inventions and innovations, along with associated applications, have brought manifest advantages and improvements to human existence.
Thus, at the launch meeting of African Physical Society (AfPS) that was held at Dakar Senegal from January 11 – 16, 2010, it was observed that African Astronomers have not been moving forward in line with other astronomers from other countries. Hence it was suggested and agreed that one way to get African astronomers together as a body. The formation of such a body will help to initiate collaboration with Astronomers from other countries, discuss and solve astronomical problems, strengthen astronomy in Africa, develop astronomy in Africa and initiate astronomy outreach programmes.
The above considerations help to explain the emergence and general acceptability of astronomical societies worldwide, over the centuries, as organizational bodies, usually operating with state financial support and approval that coordinate scholarly research and development activities, and standards, in astronomy.
Astronomical societies are formed for a variety of reasons, among the most important of which are the following:
- Production and distribution of knowledge, among astronomers/experts, based on facts and logical deductions/predictions.
- The patriotic imperatives guiding the efforts of the societies towards contributing to the safety and well-being of the citizenry in their various countries.
- The socio-economic implications of astronomy and its applications.
While the interest of the astronomers/experts may be said to be largely propelled by (a) and (b), the attention of governments worldwide has been increasingly attracted by (c), given the acknowledged vital role of astronomy and technology as drivers of industrial processes and hence their strategic importance with regard to the economic advancement of nations.
Indeed, over the years, governments have come to rely increasingly on demonstrably productive linkages with astronomical societies, to the extent that even when such learned societies have been established independently by the expert astronomers, governments have often been keen to grant them recognition and provide support in the national interest. Furthermore, in a large number of countries, governments have generally found it convenient to ensure or facilitate the establishment of these organizations.
III. The Spread and Characteristics of National/Regional Astronomical Societies
Any appraisal of the worldwide development of astronomical societies readily brings into focus their global spread and growing importance. Thus, of the 192 current member states of the United Nations, over 90 of them rely on their national or on regional astronomical societies. Furthermore, the acknowledged relevance of the astronomical societies to national economic development is reflected in the membership of the various world economic groupings. For example, each member of both G7, which is the group of seven of the world’s leading economies (i.e. Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and United States) and the G8 (which is the G7 together with Russia) relies on the scientific inputs into governance provided by its national astronomy society. This society is reciprocally accorded full recognition and adequate support.
This situation is also reflected in the membership of the newer G20 organization, which is essentially an enlargement of the G8. It consists of the 20 largest economies of the world (i.e. 19 of the world’s largest economies, together with the European Union (EU)). The 19 nations of the organization (which provides a forum for cooperation and consultation on international finance) are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States. All these countries have strong astronomical societies, with the sole exception of Saudi Arabia.
It is to be observed that the development and growth of the world system of astronomical societies has been facilitated by the emergence of global science organizations, as distinct from national bodies. Among these organizations is the International Astronomical Union (IAU). With a membership of over 100 astronomical societies worldwide (including national academies/institutions, as well as regional/global groups of astronomers), the IAU, being essentially a global network of astronomical societies, has as its primary objective, the provision of assistance to member astronomical societies to facilitate their mutual cooperation, with a view to proffering astronomy advice on national and critical global issues. The IAU enjoys secure funding for its operations, provided by member nations.
An important aspect of the global development of astronomical societies is their worldwide spread which cuts across national/ regional boundaries, world economic groupings and other interests. Also, as observed from the membership of the United Nations, this spread is not restrained by the disparities in the economic strengths of nations.
Characteristic of African Astronomical Society
i. WHO IS AN AfAS ASTRONOMER?
An Astronomer is a professional scientist, who does or did research on celestial bodies and /or the universe as a whole.
ii. MEMBERSHIP QUALIFICATION
An AfAS member must be a PhD /MSc holder, actively involved in astronomy research
iii. STUDENTS MEMBERSHIP
An AfAS student member must be an undergraduate /or graduate student in the area of astronomy.
iv. METHOD OF ADMISSION
A new member shall be recommended by the coordinator of astronomy in his/her country of residence.
On the recommendation, the council shall consider and approve his/her membership.
IV. VISION STATEMENT
1. To grow the astronomical profession in Africa to a highly recognized international level.
2. Specifically, the purpose of the African Astronomical Society (AfAS) is 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 African-based telescopes, and to better bridge the African astronomy community to the global astronomical community.
V. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
The Society will be established to promote the growth, acquisition and dissemination of astronomical knowledge, and to facilitate its use in the solution of major problems of national interest. This is achieved by:
(i)Providing advice on specific problems of astronomical > and technological nature, presented to it by the government and its agencies, as well as by privatezations;
(ii) Bringing to the attention of the government and its agencies problems of national interest that astronomy and technology can help to solve;
(iii) Establishing and maintaining the highest standards of astronomical endeavour and achievement in Africa.
VI. OPERATIONS OF THE AFRICAN ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY
Towards the achievement of its aims and objectives as summarized in Section V, The Society will engage in a wide range of programmes, such as:
Other major activities, including the following:
(i) Expert Meetings and Workshops: The Society will provide a neutral platform to bring together professionals and to stimulate exchange of ideas on diverse matters of astronomy. The Society serves as astronomy adviser to government and society.
(ii) International Conferences: In line with its vision, mission and objectives, the Society will participate actively in many conferences of major global/regional astronomical societies.
(iii) Scientific Information: The Society will produce reports, annals and other related publications. These serve as credible sources of unbiased astronomical information. The Society will also publish journals, monographs, abstracts, reviews, directories, etc. In particular, it will publish highly reputable and prestigious Proceedings in which astronomers may publish the results of recent research.
This paper has drawn attention to some aspects of the development, growth, significance and contributions of national astronomical societies, as learned societies. It has also considered, in particular, the emergence and activities of the African Astronomical Society, its relevance and prospects with regard to national development, as well as its contributions to international astronomy.