AfAS 2020: Conference of the African Astronomical Society

Background and Motivation

Over the past two centuries professional astronomy activities on the African continent have increased and with this we have seen some growth in capacity. Collaborations with partners from outside the continent through various initiatives has been a major contributor to the growth we have seen. The High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) , the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network, are examples of massive international ventures in which African countries and scientists are playing a leading role. These ventures are complemented by the efforts to build capacity, through initiatives like the Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) Newton Fund programme, to train young Africans in astronomy, engineering, technology and related fields. The National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP) is a multi-institutional postgraduate programme training graduates in astronomy, astrophysics and space science, which has alumni from across the African continent. The purpose of these projects is to develop skills using astronomy in a number of African countries. The DARA project in particular is targeted at countries acquiring radio telescopes through the African VLBI Network (AVN) as part of their participation in the South African Square Kilometre Array project. The countries involved in the AVN are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and South Africa. In 2017, the 32m radio telescope observatory in Ghana was completed and inaugurated, this was the first AVN telescope completed apart from the HartRAO telescope in South Africa.

In addition to progress mentioned above, African countries are rapidly developing their own astronomy training programmes, instruments and infrastructure. Examples of these developments are; the Entoto Observatory and Research Centre in Ethiopia, the refurbished Kottamia Astronomical Observatory in Egypt, Oukaimeden Observatory in Morocco, a 1m optical telescope in Burkina Faso, a Masters programme in Astronomy in Uganda and several astronomy initiatives in Nigeria. Recently, discussions around the possibility of setting up an Astronomical Observatory and related facilities for education and outreach in Kenya began. Running in parallel to the above mentioned initiatives are several data processing and analysis infrastructure projects.

At this point it is also crucial that African nations collaborate amongst themselves and conduct as much skill exchange projects as possible. The African Astronomical Society (AfAS) was relaunch at the Astronomy in Africa business meeting, which was held in Cape Town at the South African Astronomical Observatory on 25-26 March 2019. The meeting was attended by around 80 participants from 20 nations including astronomers, public stakeholders and research organisations. The meeting focused on field-related issues of strategy, policy and governance and the planning of the future of astronomy in Africa. The AfAS Executive Committee elected at the meeting was mandated by the African astronomy community to help realise mission and vision of the Society by carrying out the objectives set out in the AfAS constitution. The AfAS Science business meeting was held in Ethiopia on 10-11 October 2019, it brought together African Astronomical professionals and the international astronomy community to discuss scientific issues, consult on a science strategy of AfAS and how they could be engaged in AfAS activities. In line with its objectives and the science strategy to be developed at the Science business meeting, it is envisaged that AfAS will hold a conference in March 2020, which will focus on the science coming out of Astronomy in Africa and cultivating collaboration among countries in Africa as well as collaborations between Africa and the rest of the world. The proposed conference will also look at attracting and retaining youth in astronomy and strengthening the teaching of astronomy and related sciences. 

Objectives

  • Share astronomy research from across Africa and the Diaspora, promote scientific feedback and  research collaborative discussions.
  • Showcase recent Astronomy development and research output from African countries and the African Diaspora.
  • Provide a platform for discussions on current scientific discoveries, questions and opportunities.
  • Bring together participants in the African Astronomy community so that they can be better organised for astronomy development on and scientific output from the continent.
  • Begin forward discussions and working on the roll-out and implementation of the AfAS Science Strategy.
  • Help define specific concerns and how they contribute to the overall framework for the discussions on how to implement the AfAS Science Strategy.

Expected Outcomes

  • Scientific knowledge exchange, feedback, opportunity and celebration
  • Awareness of activities in Africa both by Africans and potential international collaborators
  • Inspire young African researchers to take ownership and drive the development of astronomy in Africa
  • Identification of strategic partnerships for implementation of the AfAS Science Strategy
  • New partnerships have developed in the fields of astronomy and big data research in Africa and internationally.

Participants and Registration

The Conference aims to bring together around 150 participants from various institutions and networks conducting research in the field of astronomy primarily on the African continent. The conference also aims to attract industry partners, representatives of Government, policy makers, Inter-governmental, and other international partners from across Africa and Diaspora. Potential participants will fill out a “pre-registration” form so that the organisers can plan based on the response from the community. No registration fee will be charged for the conference and a limited number of travel support grants will be given (Transport and/or Accommodation). Participants will be expected to make their own travel arrangements

Venue

The conference will be held at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town, South Africa. This is the same venue where AfAS was officially relaunched in March 2019.

Dates

16 – 19 March 2020

Format

The programme will consist of: 

  • Day 1: Science talks
  • Day 2: Science talks
  • Day 3: Education/Development and Outreach 
  • Day 4: AfAS Business focus and AGM (networking and Hackathon)

The broad plenary talks will take place in the mornings, followed by parallel sessions which are more thematic later on. The Science, Education/Development and Outreach sessions will include a variety of primarily invited talks and contributed posters. Interactive networking sessions, including the Hackathon, will promote discussions, stimulate conversations through unconferences, flash talks and team building activities. 


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