News & Press (Load for Events)

The XXXI General Assembly Business Sessions of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) ended 23 August 2021. The virtual meetings this week included pre-business The IAU Today sessions, with talks by international prizewinners, IAU PhD Prize winners, and leaders of IAU Offices and Executive Committee Working Groups. 

At the General Assembly Business Sessions, the IAU welcomed Botswana as a new National Member, and Bolivia, Ecuador, and Iraq as Observers. The General Assembly also approved 11 Honorary Members, 281 new Individual Members, and 191 new Junior Members. The fraction of females is 35% among Junior Members, and 21% overall for IAU Members. This is an increase of 3% as compared with 2018.

 
60 National Representatives voted at the online IAU General Assembly to approve Botswana’s application for full National Membership. The ASB is delighted to report that it was enthusiastically supported! A significant step forward for international links for Astronomy in Botswana.
 

The IAU General Secretary, Prof Teresa Lago, will  officially inform the Govt. of the Republic of Botswana in due course. 

The event can be watched on the YouTube link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkuSnoiEhk0 –  the Botswana vote comes after the first 10-15 minutes; followed by some interesting information on the Report of the Executive Committee 

WASHINGTON — NASA and the European Space Agency have agreed to cooperate on future Earth science missions and related activities in an effort to better understand climate change. The leaders of the two agencies signed a joint statement of intent in a virtual meeting July 13, declaring their plans to cooperate on Earth science research, particularly involving climate change, ranging from missions to research and applications. “Climate change is an all-hands-on deck, global challenge that requires action now,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement about the agreement. “This agreement will set the standard for future international collaboration, providing the information that is so essential for tackling the challenges posed by climate change and helping to answer and address the most pressing questions in Earth science for the benefit of the United States, Europe, and the world.” NASA and ESA already cooperate on Earth science research. An example is Sentinel-6, a program to fly two satellites to continue a three-decade record of sea level measurements. That program includes NASA and ESA, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States and the European Commission, Eumetsat and the French space agency CNES in Europe. NASA launched the first European-built Sentinel-6 satellite in November 2020. A new batch of images taken by the Ingenuity helicopter during its recent flight over the surface of Mars is helping NASA scientists to refine science goals for the Perseverance rover and chart the best route forward as they search for signs of life on the Red Planet. NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured this image of tracks made by the Perseverance rover during its ninth flight, on July 5 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) Astronomers have definitively detected a black hole devouring a neutron star for the first – and second – time. These cataclysmic events created ripples in space-time called gravitational waves that travelled more than 900 million light years to reach detectors on Earth. The first of the two collisions was detected on 5 January 2020 by the Virgo observatory in Italy and one of the two detectors that make up the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, in the US (the second LIGO detector was temporarily offline). It consisted of a black hole about 8.9 times more massive than the sun consuming a neutron star about 1.9 times the sun’s mass. The second, spotted on 15 January 2020 with all three detectors, was a black hole about 5.7 times the sun’s mass swallowing a neutron star about 1.5 times the sun’s mass. While LIGO has detected other events that could have been collisions between black holes and neutron stars, these two detections are significantly more clear and definitive

Meteorite that landed in Botswana tracked to its birthplace in the asteroid belt

A small asteroid barreled through the sky and burned up over the Kalahari Desert of Botswana in the summer of 2018 and now, scientists suspect that the space rock originated from Vesta, the second largest asteroid in the solar system. The small asteroid, named 2018 LA, was first observed through a telescope at the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey and looked like a speck of light whizzing through the stars, according to a statement from the SETI Institute. “This is only the second time we have spotted an asteroid in space before it hit Earth over land,” Peter Jenniskens, a SETI Institute meteor astronomer, said in the statement. “The first was asteroid 2008 TC3 in Sudan 10 years earlier.” Mere hours after being spotted, 2018 LA came tumbling out of the sky and burned up in the atmosphere over Botswana, transforming into a brilliant fireball. Remarkably, the SkyMapper Telescope at Australian National University (ANU) captured the moments just before the rock broke through Earth’s atmosphere, and CCTV camera footage caught the final moments of the meteor’s explosive descent in black-and-white. “These last images before the asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere were SkyMapper’s biggest contribution. They helped to pinpoint both the search area for the meteorite fragments on Earth and the meteor’s origin in space,” Christopher Onken, the ANU SkyMapper Project Scientist, said in a statement from ANU. Pulling from the available astronomical observations, an international team of scientists pinpointed the region where the meteor likely disintegrated, scattering space rock fragments on the ground below; this region happened to fall within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a national park in the Kalahari Desert. “The meteorite is named ‘Motopi Pan’ after a local watering hole,” Mohutsiwa Gabadirwe, a geoscientist at the Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI) in Lobatse, said in the SETI statement. Read the full article from LIVESCIENCE here

NASA is finally headed back to Venus.

On June 2, 2021, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced that the agency had selected two winners of its latest Discovery class spacecraft mission competition, and both are headed to the second planet from the Sun. Ingenuity successfully completed its fourth flight today (to be seen mid right above), and we couldn’t be happier. The helicopter took off at 10:49 a.m. EDT (7:49 a.m. PDT, or 12:33 local Mars time), climbing to an altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) before flying south approximately 436 feet (133 meters) and then back, for an 872-foot (266-meter) round trip. In total, we were in the air for 117 seconds. That’s another set of records for the helicopter, even compared to the spectacular third flight. – NASA Science Read the status updates as Ingenuity completes Its Fourth Flight on 30 April 2021 on the LINK HERE Stephen O’Meara who lives in the north of Botswana has published his latest book Night Skies of Botswana published by PenguinRandomHouse and is available on order at Exclusive Books in Gaborone and on Amazon. It’s a very informative and excellent book worth buying. Telescope Donation In December 2019, the ASB received a donation from the Southport Astronomical Society in the U.K. The generous donation was made to the society by SAS members John and Marjorie Barrow, and the ASB owes many thanks to them all. The donation consisted of a 5” Celestron SLT127 Maksutov Cassegrain astronomical telescope, including all the needed manuals, software and accessories. The logistics, shipping, duty and all else were arranged and paid for by Mr. Michael Dow, chairman of the SAS, Professor Mike Bode and Mr. and  Mrs. Harold Hester of the ASB and Mr. Ian White. Thanks to all of them as well. The telescope is awaiting the completion of a concrete viewing plinth on a specially selected spot at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve outside of Gaborone, where it can be used by the ASB for future activities. An agreement has been signed between the ASB and Mokolodi allowing for the telescope to remain safely stored at Mokolodi when not in use. As soon as the viewing site is ready, a brief training course will be organized to teach any interested members on the proper assembly, alignment and use of the instrument. All members will be notified in advance once a date has been decided. After the telescope was received in Gaborone, society member Mr. Bill Tomlinson set up the instrument in Kanye for testing and captured some images of the moon as examples of what the scope is capable of. The lunar images were later posted on Facebook by Mr. Gihan Ilangakoon, ASB secretary, and were acknowledged by Celestron  –  the manufacturer of both the telescope and the camera that were used  –   requesting permission for their use on their company website. Two of the images can be seen below.    

SQUARE KILOMETER ARRAY

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is an intergovernmental radio telescope project being planned to be built in Australia and South Africa. Conceived in the 1990s, and further developed and designed by the late-2010s, when completed it will have a total collecting area of approximately one square kilometre sometime in the 2020s. It will operate over a wide range of frequencies and its size will make it 50 times more sensitive than any other radio instrument. It will require very high performance central computing engines and long-haul links with a capacity greater than the global Internet traffic as of 2013. If built as planned, it should be able to survey the sky more than ten thousand times faster than before. With receiving stations extending out to a distance of at least 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) from a concentrated central core, it will exploit radio astronomy‘s ability to provide the highest resolution images in all astronomy. The SKA will be built in the southern hemisphere, with cores in South Africa and Australia, where the view of the Milky Way Galaxy is the best and radio interference at its least. Four precursor facilities are already operating: MeerKAT and the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) in South Africa, and the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Western Australia. The headquarters of the project are located at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK.
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Mars 2020 Mission – Perseverance Rover

Check for UPDATES here… partnership with the ministry of education In late January, Society chairman Ms. Boitumelo Sekhute-Batungamile and others met with deputy permanent secretary Mr. Simon Coles at his office at the Ministry of Basic Education  to discuss a possible partnership between the two organizations. This partnership would include event hosting by the society for secondary level school children, at dark locations with telescopes, giving the children the chance to experience practical astronomical observation first-hand. It is a stated goal of the ASB to help promote the study of STEM subjects at secondary schools in Botswana. Both the Society and the Ministry felt that astronomy could play a role in helping to stimulate the youth to become more interested in science related subjects at school, paving the way for greater employment of Batswana in STEM related careers. In early March the Society submitted a proposal to the Ministry outlining how such a partnership might work. Unfortunately, before a meeting could be organized, the COVID-19 pandemic overtook the possibility of anything happening too soon. As schools are still trying to overcome the setback caused by the resulting lock-down, further discussions have been postponed until such time as the Ministry deems fit. partnership with ministry of tourism and the bto Shortly after the discussions with Education, our chairman and others met with officials from the BTO to discuss the Society’s participation in the upcoming Makgadikgadi Epic event scheduled for July. Again, a proposal was submitted to the Ministry outlining the suggested modes and level of cooperation. Unfortunately the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, both proposals are being followed up and the Society is awaiting word from both Ministries on when we can get back on track as originally discussed. iau and open astronomy schools Members of the Society recently attended a meeting at UB to discuss possible cooperation involving the Society regarding an International Astronomical Union project called open-astronomy-schools.org. The meeting was organized by Dr. Tshiamo Motshegwa of the computer science and robotics department and was well attended by UB participants including the dean of the school of education, Professor Lily Mafela. Through Dr. Motshegwa’s efforts, Botswana was the recipient of ten telescopes as part of the open-astronomy-school.org project aimed at promoting STEM at the secondary level. A teacher’s training workshop(s) will be organized soon where the Society’s participation is anticipated. This project promises to be both rewarding and beneficial to all involved. We will update this section as things unfold.

2020 Nobel Prize in Physics Andrea Ghez is only the 4th woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics. She shares it with Roger Penrose, and Reinhard Genzel in the Physics Award for 2020 for the discovery of the black-hole in the center of our galaxy Link to Andrea Ghez 2013 Article : Star Tracker mokolodi stargazing On the 24th of October , 16 Members of the society gathered at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve for drinks, dinner and an evening of Stargazing. There were 5 telescopes and some binoculars on hand. Planetary images were taken with the society’s Celestron 127SLT