Plans by the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) are underway to build and develop the National Astronomical observatory in Palapye, which will place the town among destinations known for star gazing.
Lonely Planet has listed Astro tourism among the best traveling trends across the planet as travelers seek out the world’s unpolluted view of the stars. BIUST is set to give visitors unsurpassed views of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and the occasional meteorological shower according to the university’s Physics and Astronomy HOD professor Gregory Hillhouse.
“There are so many exciting things in astronomy. We are going to put up some big optical telescopes on campus which will be in national facilities and people traveling up to Maun and Kasane can pass here, spend the night, look at the stars and that will be part of our tourism offering. Astro tourism is among our big plans here,” he briefly said.
Hillhouse also revealed that they will also be undertaking the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in Botswana which is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope. As one of the largest scientific endeavors in history, the SKA will bring together a wealth of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers to bring the project to fruition. The SKA will be able to conduct transformational science, breaking new ground in astronomical observations.
“In Botswana we are going to have 80 radio telescopes, each one costing between 80 and 100 million Pula. BIUST is here to develop capacity to train young people in engineering, technologists and physicists to use these facilities. But the pre courser to this project is something called African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (AVLBI). The plan is that Botswana must build one big dish, and prove to SKA project members that we can do something like this, once we do it we become a part of the SKA consortium,” he explained.
Currently the biggest man made science project in the world is CERN, which is a big collider in Switzerland. It is a big facility where one experiment is carried out by 6000 people and SKA will be hundreds if not thousands of times bigger than that. Hillhouse assured that the project will not impose any dangers to the community as the telescopes will be in the middle of nowhere and only receiving signals from outer space. South Africa has already put up the core of the SKA to demonstrate to the world that they could do it, which has positively impacted on its people as there have been massive developments on human capacity and skills transfer.
Says Hillhouse; “BIUST has been mandated by the Ministry of tertiary education to train people and get the project up and running. Many people out there do not know about this but you can imagine the spin offs that will come out of this, for example the camera on your mobile phone and Wi-Fi is invented by astronomics. We have two radio telescopes, which were donated by South Africa, and they are up and running as national facilities.”
There is an SKA phase 1 and 2, the first phase should be up and running by 2025 while SKA 2 will come at a much later date. SKA 1 will push the frontiers of the current technology and SKA 2 technology doesn’t exist. Funding for the project comes from a big consortium called SKA, with headquarters in the UK.
“Our focus now is to build one big telescope which will form part of a network of African telescopes, if in the worst case scenario SKA doesn’t materialize because funding could be pulled at any minute at least we will have 10 telescopes that we can connect and do better science innovation in Botswana.”