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  • Is South Africa ready for a stellar future?


The newly opened Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) has been heralded as a great new hope for South African space science (see South Africa opens giant eye on the night sky).

In this article in Nature, Michael Cherry investigates whether the country is ready to exploit the opportunities the new telescope might bring.

One top South African astronomer says the country lacks the capacity to even use its share of the telescope's observing time.

Cherry says this is because the national astronomy programme has struggled to escape its colonial history. The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) has only been run by the country since 1971, and just one of its administrators has been South African.

Perhaps most damaging, says Cherry, is the SAAO's poor track record in student training, which according to some has stunted the growth of an indigenous astronomy community.

Now, the balance could be shifting. The government is looking to expand its national space science programme to produce 76 doctorates and fund 30 postdoctoral fellowships over the next five years. And in schools, efforts such as field trips and extra science training for teachers have been actively encouraged.

Link to full article in Nature

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