The fault may not be in our stars, but could it be possible to research and observe the world of astronomy from the grounds of Kenya?
That was certainly the quest as astronomy stakeholders from around the world met in early February at a conference to discuss the possibility of setting up an astronomical observatory and related facilities for education and outreach in Kenya.
If it does materialise, such a telescope in Kenya would be the only research-class observatory in equatorial Africa. Projected to envisage a principal telescope with a mirror diameter of 1.4 metres, the observatory may cost from between Ksh150 million to Ksh400 million.
Potential sites for this observatory include Mount Kulal and Ol Donyo Nyiro regions which are off the southern shore of Lake Turkana.
The Head of Physics and Space Science at the Technical University of Kenya Prof. Paul Baki said such an initiative would help in fighting agaist the brain drain the country suffers from due to lack of adequate facilities for world class research in certain disciplines.
Graduates therefore miss out on developing their skills through scientific research for the benefit of the local economy, the TUK don said.
“The few provinces in which scientific research of an international standard takes place are predictable for a developing country: medicine, veterinary science and agriculture. There are virtually no avenues for research into mathematics, physics or astronomy,” Prof. Baki said.
Kenya is projected to have sites where clear skies and strategic geograhical positioning means astronomic observation is viable.
The early February conference is the last in a series of meetings following previous meetings that took place in Edinburgh, Scotland and Cape Town, South Africa as part of a project funded by the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) led by Dr Martyn Wells from the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC).
UK ATC is part of the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
“Since there exists no local tradition for optical astronomy in the country, the construction of an observatory in Kenya would need to be undertaken with the involvement both of foreign capital and expertise,”Dr. Wells said.
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