Europe to foster social-economical impact of astronomy

The European Regional Office of Astronomy for Development (E-ROAD) has held its first conference session at the 2020 virtual Annual Meeting of the European Astronomical Society (EAS), the largest astronomy conference in Europe. The E-ROAD is an initiative of the International Astronomical Union, the EAS and Leiden University. It aims to use Astronomy as a tool to contribute to socio-economic development, specifically by contributing to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. With its participation, E-ROAD expects to further its international collaboration in achieving the vision of astronomy for a better world.

The IAU E-ROAD was established in 2018 as a partnership between Leiden Observatory and the EAS and focuses on accomplishing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Europe. The office also supports capacity building globally and facilitates educational projects that use the cosmic perspective to foster global citizenship.

Astronomy provides an inspirational gateway to cutting-edge technology, natural sciences and culture, making it an effective tool for sustainable development. It can play a unique role in providing captivating science education at all levels and in raising public awareness about science. The perspective of astronomy on our place in the Universe inspires one to develop a sense of internationalism and solidarity. By harnessing the facilities, skills, infrastructure and knowledge of astronomers, it thus becomes possible to contribute to socio-economic development and capacity building that can benefit the society at large.

Virtual astronomy meeting

On the 29th of June, the E-ROAD held its first conference session dedicated to Astronomy for Development and Sustainability at the virtual EAS Annual Meeting 2020, the largest conference for astronomers in Europe, organised by the European Astronomical Society. The online conference attracted more than 1800 participants from all over the world of which between 100 to 300 followed the E-ROAD sessions. Speakers briefed on how to expand the astronomy for the development community to work on international and sustainable development, presented current astronomy for development activities and opportunities, promoted astronomy outreach for climate change and fostered sustainable practices in astronomy. ‘Astronomers have a unique perspective on Earth that brings home the need to work together to address global challenges, such as climate change,’ says Adrienne Cool, professor of astronomy at San Francisco State University and founder of the initiative Astronomers for Planet Earth.

The seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Pale Blue Dot

Following the conference, the office will focus on its two main projects, Pale Blue Dot and a twinning programme. The Pale Blue Dot project will use the perspective of astronomy as an inspirational tool to excite young children globally and stimulate a sense of global citizenship, solidarity and climate change awareness. Thereby it will further the United Nation’s SDGs that involve peace, quality education and climate action and promote a multidisciplinary practice-research platform. In February, the E-ROAD organised the Pale Blue Dot symposium at the Leiden Observatory to give a taste of the project and celebrate the famous photograph of Earth from space. After a pilot phase, Pale Blue Dot will ultimately be a global education programme.

Twinning programme

The E-ROAD is also setting up a twinning programme between astronomy departments in Europe and worldwide to share expertise and resources. This programme will link astronomers and institutes based on their needs and focus on building human capacity. In spring 2021, Leiden University will start exchanges with students and staff from astronomy institutes in Armenia, Colombia, Ethiopia and Nigeria under the Erasmus+ framework. The main partnering institutes include the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory in Armenia, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute and the NASRDA-Center for Basic Space Science and Astronomy in Nigeria, along with several others.

The collaboration will comprise one-week training courses in each country, focusing on transferable skills such as basic astronomical programming, grant writing, project management and publication strategies. The Erasmus+ grant will also allow staff and students from the partner institutes to travel to the Leiden Observatory and gain work experience abroad. ‘This programme is highly necessary to build the needed critical mass of human capacity in Nigeria’, says Nnaemeka Onyeuwaoma, project officer at the West African Regional Office of Astronomy for Development.

UN75 Event

On 9 September 2020, the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, the E-ROAD will organise a virtual Dialogue in connection with the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the United Nations. The rationale is to encourage universal solidarity through a dialogue about astronomy education and global citizenship and its inclusion in school curriculums. Tentative speakers for the event include the IAU president Ewine van Dishoeck and the IAU OAD director Kevin Govender, and there will be video contributions from children across the world. The event will engage, amongst others, educators, policy-makers and UN representatives.

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