The African Astronomical Society’s 3rd Annual Conference was hosted by the Wits Centre for Astrophysics. The conference, which took place from 13-17 March 2023 at the Wits Origins Centre, was officially opened by Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi. In his remarks, Vilakazi spoke of the power of astronomy to tackle fundamental physics while capturing the public’s imagination and inspiring young people across the continent to pursue much-needed skills development in science, technology and engineering fields.
Hosting the AfAS 2023 conference at the Wits Origins Centre was a fitting venue, since showcases some of Africa’s proud heritage as the Cradle of Humankind. The setting resonates with so many of the deep questions that ancient and contemporary astronomers alike have grappled with, including the origins of the Universe, the formation of the Earth, and if we humans are alone in the cosmos. Just as paleo-scientists and geo-scientists explore our shared human and planet’s history, so too do astronomers explore the universe, carefully peeling back layers with powerful telescopes and algorithms to reveal pieces of a great cosmic tapestry.
From a pan-African perspective, the Wits CfA has been a major supporter of training our next generation of astronomers on the continent, with no fewer than 15 postgraduates and postdocs from 7 African nations that have carried out their astrophysics research here. Members of the Wits CfA have served on the Steering Committee of the Newton Fund project, Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy, alongside extensive lecturing at dedicated multi-week workshops and summer schools in South Africa and Botswana, as well as being a partner in the Pan-African Planetary and Space Science Network, which will likely see further increases in our Pan-African representation.
While the Wits CfA’s primary focus is on research, it has also recently led the vision, fundraising, and communications campaign for the R75 million upgrade and expansion of the 62-year-old Wits Planetarium into a Digital Dome. This will continue the Wits Planetarium’s proud legacy while transforming it into a world-class digital research, training, and science engagement facility – targeting many of the areas that the African Astronomical Society is focused on.
The conference programme and further details can be found here.