Episode 20: Cosmic Chemistry

with Prof Ewine van Dishoeck

In our first episode of the 2020s and Episode 20 we are honoured to be joined by Prof Ewine van Dishoeck who is a Dutch astronomer and chemist. She is Professor of Molecular Astrophysics at Leiden Observatory and the president of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

We discuss Ewine’s work in molecular astrophysics. She takes us on a tour of the formation of a solar system. All the way from the Big Bang, through clouds of gas where solar systems and planets are being born, all the way to the very building blocks of life!

We learn how molecules form in space, combine with dust and eventually grow into the massive planets we observe and indeed inhabit.

Ewine also tells us what it’s like to be the President of the largest organisation of astronomers in the world and what she’s been up to during her visit to Cape Town!

An ALMA radio image of the protoplanetary disk around the young star HL Tau. The circular disk appears elliptical because it is inclined with respect to our line of sight. With ALMA’s high-resolution capabilities, the image shows dark gaps in the disk, which are formed by protoplanets sweeping out the dust around their orbits. Figure from ALMA and NRAO.

This week’s guest

Related Links
Office of Astronomy for Development: http://www.astro4dev.org/
IAU100: https://www.iau-100.org/

Featured Image:
An artist’s impression of the Herschel Space Observatory with its observations of star formation in the Rosette Nebula in the background.
(Image: © C. Carreau/ESA)

Episode Transcript

(By Sumari Hattingh)

Dan: [00:00:00]   Welcome to the Cosmic Savannah with Dr. Daniel Cunnama

Jacinta: [00:00:08] And Dr. Jacinta Delhaize. Each episode we’ll be giving you a behind the scenes look at world-class astronomy and astrophysics happening under African skies.

Dan: [00:00:17]  Let us introduce you to the people involved, the technology we use, the exciting work we do and the fascinating discoveries we make.

Jacinta: [00:00:24]  Sit back and relax as we take you on a Safari through the skies.

Welcome to episode 20 to kick off the 2020’s.

Dan: [00:00:35]  We’re back in the twenties and I was never in the twenties in the first

place.

Jacinta: [00:00:40] The roaring twenties; my favorite era.

Dan: [00:00:42]  I think it’s just exciting that we can call them the twenties.

Jacinta: [00:00:45]  Yes. When you actually know what to call our decade.

Dan: [00:00:47] Yeah, it’s good.

Jacinta: [00:00:48] Yes. So whole new year, whole new decade and first episode for the year.

Dan: [00:00:55] Yeah, we will be talking to the president of the International Astronomical Union. The IAU. Professor Ewine van Dishoeck from the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands.

Jacinta: [00:01:05]  Yeah. And she’ll be telling us about her work in Astrochemistry studying interstellar clouds and newly forming solar systems around exo-planets.

Dan: [00:01:16] And she’ll also speak about her role as the president of the IAU and what she does. And why she’s visiting us here in Cape Town.

Jacinta: [00:01:24] Yes. But first though, Dan, since it’s a new year, it might be a good chance for us to recap on the things we talked about last year and especially for the new listeners who have joined us recently.

Maybe there’s a few things we’d like them to know about before we get into this episode. So I know you love this because I have a quiz for you.

And listeners can play at home and try and beat Dan.

Dan: [00:01:53] Gosh.

Jacinta: [00:01:54] Okay.

Dan: [00:01:55] I’m nervous.

Jacinta: [00:01:56]  All right. It’s a lightning quiz. Okay.

  So fast as you can. All right.

  Question one. What is the Cosmic Savannah?

Dan: [00:02:04]  An awesome podcast. About astronomy in Africa.

Jacinta: [00:02:08]  Correct. Question two. Who are you?

Dan: [00:02:11] My name is Dr. Daniel Cunnama. I am the science engagement astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory.

Jacinta: [00:02:18]  Correct. Who am I?

Dan: [00:02:22]  Dr Jacinta Delhaize. And you are a SARAO – South African Radio Astronomy Observatory – postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cape Town.

Jacinta: [00:02:31]  And that is correct. Question four, where are we?

Dan: [00:02:36] We are at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape town, South Africa.

Jacinta: [00:02:42] Correct. Okay.

Question five, what are the main astronomy research institutions in Cape Town and their acronyms?

Dan: [00:02:52]  So we’ve already been through the South African Astronomical Observatory. – SAAO. We have the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory that does mostly radio astronomy and run the MeerKAT – the radio telescope in the Karoo.

I hope that’s not another question.

Jacinta: [00:03:07] It is. Please stick to the questions asked.

Dan: [00:03:10] Sorry, so that is SARAO: S-A-R-A-O, and then we have the universities: University of Cape town- UCT, the university of the Western Cape – UWC.

Jacinta: [00:03:19] Correct. Okay. Question number six. What is electromagnetic radiation?

Dan: [00:03:26] So electromagnetic radiation, as you normally will know of it, is light – little photons –  little packets of light coming towards us.

However, light comes in a lot of different frequencies or wavelengths, which we use interchangeably in astronomy.

Jacinta: [00:03:41]  Question number seven, name all the different types of light on the electromagnetic spectrum. In order.

Dan: [00:03:46]  In order? Gamma rays, X-rays,…

I’m just checking if there’s anything else in between. Gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, millimeter, and radio.

Jacinta: [00:04:04]  Microwave.

Dan: [00:04:06] Ah. Microwave, radio.

Jacinta: [00:04:07]  Yes. Okay.

Dan: [00:04:08]  Microwave. I’ll lump in with radio. Oh, wow.

Jacinta: [00:04:14]  I’m going to give you half a point for that one. Okay. Question number eight. Which of these types of light can we as astronomers detect coming from space?

Dan: [00:04:22] All of them.

Jacinta: [00:04:22] Correct. Question number nine. Name two things in space that we can detect with the radio telescopes.

Dan: [00:04:28]  Giant galaxies and gas dust.

Jacinta: [00:04:32] Correct. Question number 10. South Africa hosts one of the best radio telescopes in the world. What is it called and where is it?

Dan: [00:04:40] It is called MeerKAT and it is located outside Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, very far from anyone, and it consists of 64 thirteen-and-a-half meter radio antennae, which look a lot like a satellite dish that you would use for getting satellite TV.

Jacinta: [00:05:00]  Correct. And thorough. Question number 11, name two things in space that we can detect with optical telescopes. Also known as visible light.

Dan: [00:05:08]  Also galaxies. Starlight and then obviously stars and also some amount of gas.

Jacinta: [00:05:15]  That’s more than two Dan, but that’s fine.

Dan: [00:05:18]  Well starlight and stars are the same.

Jacinta: [00:05:20]  Extra points then.  Question number 12 : South Africa hosts the biggest optical telescope in the Southern hemisphere. What is it called and where is it?

Dan: [00:05:28]  It is the Southern African Large Telescope. It is located at the SAAO Observatory in Sutherland in the Northern Cape.

Jacinta: [00:05:35]  SALT for short.

Dan: [00:05:36]  For short.

Jacinta: [00:05:37]  Question number 13 – how many other telescopes are in Sutherland?

Dan: [00:05:42]  I think that the current count there are about 15

Jacinta: [00:05:45]  I would accept 14 or 17 but that was from Wikipedia and it might be up to 15

Dan: [00:05:55]  Okay.

Jacinta: [00:05:56]  It depends whether you count different, like, different.,

Dan: [00:05:59]  So there are also some other sensing instruments. So there’s like a gravity sensor and those sorts of things.

Jacinta: [00:06:05] Yep.

Dan: [00:06:06] Instruments,  not necessarily telescopes.

Jacinta: [00:06:07] Yes. Whether you count each element of an array of telescopes, so. Yep.

Dan: [00:06:13] Correct.

Jacinta: [00:06:13] So the answer is lots. Okay. Question 14 – how far is Sutherland from the Observatory where we are now?

Dan: [00:06:20] A four hour drive. 250 kilometers.

Jacinta: [00:06:26]  Hmm. Wikipedia said 370 kilometers.

Dan: [00:06:28] Well, as the crow flies or as you drive?

Jacinta: [00:06:28]  That’s a  good question. So I’m going to trust you.

Dan: [00:06:32]  Maybe don’t.

Jacinta: [00:06:33] Over Wikipedia, but we will leave that for our listeners to find the true answer. Okay. Now, some questions specifically related to this episode. Question number 15 – what is the IAU?

Dan: [00:06:46] The international astronomical union, which is a big body of astronomers, international astronomers, 13 and a half thousand members.

Jacinta: [00:06:53]  When was the IAU founded?

Dan: [00:06:55] In 1919.

Jacinta: [00:06:57]  Correct. It was a hundred years old last year. Question 17 : what is the O-A-D?

Dan: [00:07:03]  The Office of Astronomy for Development. It’s not the Office of Astronomy Development. They’re not trying to develop astronomy. They are trying to use astronomy for development.

Jacinta: [00:07:14]  Good. And question 18 – what do you mean by development?

Dan: [00:07:18] Development is basically trying to improve society, humanity, and people’s lives as dictated by the sustainable development goals – put forward by the UN, is what I was going to say.

Jacinta: [00:07:29]  Very, very accurate. I cut you off, sorry. Okay. Now question 19 – what is an interstellar cloud?

Dan: [00:07:35]  It’s a cloud of gas and dust that sits in between stars.

Jacinta: [00:07:39]  Okay. Now, question 20 – true or false, the dense clouds in which stars and their solar systems form are actually less dense than the best ultra-vacuums we can produce in labs on earth.

Dan: [00:07:51] Correct. True.

Jacinta: [00:07:51] It is true. Yes. Question 21 – what types of telescopes can we use to study these clouds?

Dan: [00:08:00] Millimeter is the best.

Jacinta: [00:08:02] And also far-infrared for it, because we can see through the dust.

Dan: [00:08:05]  Okay.

Jacinta: [00:08:06]  Now question 22 – where should these telescopes be?

Dan: [00:08:10]  Ideally in space or in a very, very dry, very high place.

Jacinta: [00:08:15]  For example?

Dan: [00:08:16]  For example, the Atacama Desert

Jacinta: [00:08:18]  In Chile?

Dan: [00:08:19] Chile, yes.

Jacinta: [00:08:20] That’s a great place.

Dan: [00:08:21] Because, can I say, because?

Jacinta: [00:08:23] Yes.

Dan: [00:08:23] Because you want to detect molecules such as water, so you need a very, very dry place so that your telescope doesn’t see all the water in our atmosphere.

Jacinta: [00:08:33] Exactly. And you want it to be as high as possible so that there’s the least amount of atmosphere for the light to travel through.

Lucky last question. Question number 23- what is my favorite wavelength of optical light?

Dan: [00:08:49]  Pink?

Jacinta: [00:08:50]  Pink!?

Dan: [00:08:51]  I don’t know! My favorite or your favourite?

Jacinta: [00:08:53]  My favorite.

Dan: [00:08:56]  I dunno, green? I can just list ’em all?

Jacinta: [00:09:00]  It is 380 to 500 nanometers. Which is blue.  Blue’s my favorite color.

Dan: [00:09:07]  Congratulations.

Jacinta: [00:09:07] Thank you. I will score you 21 and a half out of 23. So listeners, let’s see if you did better than that.

Dan: [00:09:18]  Well, if you know Jacinta’s favorite colour prior to this, well done to you.

Jacinta: [00:09:23] Okay.  I think that’s everything that we had to talk about. Shall we hear from Ewine now?

Dan: [00:09:29]  I think we should.

So today we are honored to be joined by Professor Ewine van Dishoek, who is a professor of molecular astrophysics at the Leiden Observatory and the president of the International Astronomical Union. Welcome to The Cosmic Savannah.

Jacinta: [00:09:50] Welcome.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:09:51]  Thank you. I’m delighted to be here.

Jacinta: [00:09:54] Ewine, so you’re not just an astronomer,  you’re also a chemist, is that right?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:09:58]  That’s true indeed. I started my career as a chemist basically because I had a very good chemistry teacher in high school.

Jacinta: [00:10:04]  That can make all the difference.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:10:06]  Makes all the difference and that’s what’s got me into chemistry.

Jacinta: [00:10:09]  You sort of work in an area of astrochemistry. Can you just tell us what that is and how that differs to astrophysics?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:10:16]  Well, actually the two are very much linked because on the one hand, the space between the stars, the interstellar clouds form a gigantic chemical laboratory in which the conditions are very different from those on earth. So you can study basic chemical processes there. But on the other hand the molecules themselves also tell us about the conditions in these clouds in which new stars may be forming.

They are little temperature probe. They can be probes of the pressure in the clouds, the movements in the clouds. So also the molecules inform us about the astrophysics that’s happening in the cloud.

Jacinta: [00:10:55]  Your work particularly looks at these dark dust clouds where stars are forming in the middle and you look through the dust clouds with certain telescopes. Is that correct?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:11:06] Yes, indeed. If you look at one of these dark clouds with the light that you see with your own eyes, it’s just looking black and we need to penetrate that dust and we do that with telescopes at long wavelengths in particular at infrared and at millimeter wavelengths.

Dan: [00:11:23]  And what sort of molecules do you see? I mean, what do you observe when you’re looking at this dust?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:11:28]  Well, simple molecules like carbon monoxide, that’s the easiest one to see actually. Water, one of my favorite molecules – for that one, you need to have an observatory that is actually above the Earth’s atmosphere, because of course, our earth’s atmosphere is full of water.

So for example, the Herschel Space Observatory was very well suited to study water in space. But then there is also a huge complexity, something that was not at all expected some 50 years ago. We see simple sugars, ethers, alcohols, prebiotic molecules, like, for example, cyanide. It’s a very rich chemistry that is actually taking place under these very exotic conditions, very low temperatures and densities.

Jacinta: [00:12:13]  What does prebiotic mean?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:12:15]  That’s a good question. It’s something that could be used as a building block for life; elsewhere in the, in the universe. So for example, if you have the beginnings of peptide bonds, or if you would have an amino acid or even simple sugars, of course.

Jacinta: [00:12:31]  So have we found amino acids?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:12:33] Surprisingly not yet. We have found molecules that are certainly used, sort of, in the chemistry that leads to amino acids, but in interstellar clouds, there has not yet been a really convincing detection of an amino acid. Interestingly, in comets, which are the leftovers of the building of our own solar system, they’re actually simple amino acids, like Glycine, have been detected. So [there’s] good hope that we will find it in the not too distant future, especially with the new Atacama Large Millimeter Array.

Dan: [00:13:12] Where do these molecules form? I mean, are they forming in the interstellar cloud or are they enriched by stars or where did they actually originate from and how do they combine?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:13:22]  The cloud itself is made up of a mix of atoms and molecules. And the ingredients that we have from the periodic table is hydrogen and helium. They come, we formed in the Big Bang, and then we have the important elements: carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, and those were made, through nuclear fusion, in the interior of stars.

And then, when the stars die, it basically brings these elements into the interstellar medium. So that gives us our building blocks in terms of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. But then how do you make a bond, a chemical bond in space? And that is not easy because you need to be able to sort of carry off the binding energy of making that molecule.

I mean, now I actually think that the majority, especially of these complex molecules, are actually made on the surfaces of these tiny little dust grains. You know, sand particles that are present throughout the interstellar cloud. And they act as a meet-and-greet where atoms basically land on the grain and they scan the surface and then they meet each other and they greet and they form a bond.  And if they like each other, they can take off again and go back into the gas phase.

Dan: [00:14:43] Very romantic.

Jacinta: [00:14:45] Okay, so you said that we haven’t found amino acids, so no DNA yet, no evidence for life just yet, but we have found other complex molecules. Why do we care about finding complex molecules in these clouds?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:14:58] Well, that is because out of these clouds, new solar system forms. And so it is basically this material that we see in this clouds that, you know, collapses to form the protostar, but also the rotating disc of gas and dust around it, the so-called proto-planetary disc in which planets are forming.

So we’re basically looking at the material that ends up on new planetary systems. And there we know that once you have some liquid water there, in interstellar space water is only as an ice or as a gas, but once you have it on a planet, then it becomes a liquid form. And that is when you can actually, you know, have a chemistry that leads them to say, amino acids, and some or even more complex molecules.

Dan: [00:15:46]  So you’re really looking at the building blocks of solar systems. How do we get from a proto-planetary disk to the planet? I mean, it doesn’t just happen overnight.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:15:56] It’s a huge challenge to do that because interstellar clouds have these tiny dust grains that are a tenth of a micro meter in size. And so, compared with a particle sand grain on the beach, it’s still a thousand times smaller. Yet we need to grow to something that is as large as our earth. And that means we have to bridge some 10 to the 13 orders of magnitude in growth to make that happen. And how it occurs is still a challenge and we don’t understand it yet.

We know that when you have two particles colliding and they are not colliding too violently, not too high velocities, then they will actually stick and grow to larger bodies. And observationally we’ve been able to see sort of the growth from micro meter size to millimeter size to centimeter size to pebble size.

So that is what we can see observationally. Then there’s a whole regime of sizes that we cannot observe with our telescopes – we cannot see a brick in space. So that is what we have to infer and we can only then see, say the leftovers, comets in our own solar system. And we can see then in terms of planets, those in our own solar system and around planets around other stars.

So we have to infer, you know, many orders of magnitude of growth. We know it happened in our own solar system, so we know it’s possible, but the physics are not yet fully understood.

Jacinta: [00:17:35]  Can we see any planets forming around other stars?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:17:38]  Yes. That’s the exciting new developments that we now have with the new Atacama Large Millimeter Array : ALMA.  ALMA actually allows us to zoom in on the formation sites of planets and we have both direct and indirect evidence and that we see really planets forming at this very moment when the systems are still very young -astronomically speaking only a million years or so – that they are still forming actually in the discs.  So it’s a very exciting new field that is now being opened up by ALMA. It’s always new technology that is driving progress in astronomy.

Dan: [00:18:21]  How long does this process take? Do we have an idea?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:18:24] I mean, there’s, well, some of it can go actually very quickly. If you just have a part of a disc collapsing to form a planet through, say, a gravitational instability, then it can go very fast, you know, in tens or hundred thousands of years. The more gradual step-by-step building of a planet, what we call the core accretion model, that can take tens of millions of years.

Dan: [00:18:53] Alright, and you mentioned that comets are holding water. And you know, water was one of your big interests. So on earth we’ve got a lot of water.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:19:03] Yes.

Dan: [00:19:03] The theories for where that water came from are sort of varied. The prevailing one is that it came from comets, correct?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:19:09] Not necessarily. So I think what our research, and that of our colleagues, has shown is that the bulk of the water that we have in our solar system was actually formed already in the cloud, out of which our sun basically collapsed. It was formed on those tiny little dusts grains. That is where the oxygen and hydrogen basically came together to form water, and that water is preserved, you know, during the collapse of the cloud and the formation of the solar system. So as one of my colleagues also says, the water on earth is actually older than the Sun itself, because it comes, it preceded it actually.

Dan: [00:19:58] Yes, because it formed when we formed, right?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:19:59] It forms exactly before the whole solar system, before that already.

Jacinta: [00:20:03]  So yeah, dust grains were like the dating app.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:20:05]  Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And then how exactly in our own solar system, the water came inside the ice line. So in our solar system we had the ice line, it’s sort of the divid where water was in gaseous form, and where water is in ice form.  And we think that ice line is a very important region as to where planets could form giant planets especially, and of course, of giant planets like that of Jupiter. So the question has always been inside this rather dry inner region, how did Earth get its water? Was it delivered by comets or was it delivered by other icy planetesimals. For example, icy asteroids. They’d have different orbits than the comets. So I think the prevailing view now is that it was not the comets, but it was sort of other icy planetesimals – asteroids – that brought most of the water to Earth through bombardments and on the other end, the comets have been very important in bringing the organic material to us.

Dan: [00:21:17] Which is very important to us?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:21:18]  Which is also very important because you need both; icy water and the organics.

Jacinta: [00:21:23]  And why is it important to distinguish between comets and asteroids in that context?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:21:28]  Well, it’s an interesting question. Personally, I as an astrochemist, you know, for me it doesn’t matter so much, but solar system formation people seem to care a lot about the distinction.

Jacinta: [00:21:45]  Okay. And then we’re now in an era where we’re finding a lot of exo-planets, so planets around other stars that are not the sun, and we found a whole variety of them. Have we found water on any of them yet?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:21:58]  Yes, indeed. It’s a very exciting new era of astronomy and 25 years ago only did the first planet around another star than our Sun was actually discovered. Now of course,  it got the Nobel prize for that last year. Fantastic results. Now that we have actually found these exo-planets, and now that we know statistically that on average, every star has at least one planet, now we’re entering a new era in which we are doing, trying to do, basically, the characterization of the atmospheres of these exo-planets. And indeed water has been detected in quite a number of these exo-planets, mostly actually giant exo-planets, you know, gas giants like Jupiter. Earth-like planets, the first hints are starting to be there.

Jacinta: [00:22:56] So have we found a habitable planet yet?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:22:57] Have we found the twin of Earth yet?I don’t think so. Are we trying to find habitable exo-planets? We’re getting closer. But at least we have good candidates to target the next generation of instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope.

Dan: [00:23:19]  It’s very exciting. It’s going to be very exciting. The next 50 years or so.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:23:23]  Right. And also then not to forget the gigantic telescopes on the ground that are now being built. And the extremely large telescope from the European Southern Observatory is really aimed at characterizing the atmospheres of exo-planets and searching for biomarkers in them, not just water.  You need also other molecules in order to determine whether there is actually life there.

Jacinta: [00:23:51]  Yeah. We found so much with the current generation of telescopes like ALMA in Chile and Spitzer, Herschel, all of these things, and I can’t imagine what we’ll find.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:24:01]  Oh, that’s, I think that’s the wonderful thing about astronomy. I mean, it’s the fact that we don’t know what are going to find. That’s the surprise. I mean, that’s the excitement of the research.

Jacinta: [00:24:11]  Yeah. It’s a journey of discovery.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:24:12]  Exactly.

Jacinta: [00:24:13]  The IAU recently had a competition for naming some exo-planets, and I think two were named by South Africa?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:24:21] Indeed, the star and its planets around it.

Jacinta: [00:24:26]  I think it was Naledi, was the star, and Krotoa, was the exo-planet.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:24:31]  Yes.

Dan: [00:24:33]  And those planets were actually discovered from the WASP telescopes which are here in Sutherland.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:24:39]  Exactly. You can see the star and not the planet, but you can see the star I think with a small telescope here from South Africa. And I think also the names are wonderful because the mother star is basically the name of a girl that brings joy.

Dan: [00:25:00]  Very interesting research, but your current role is as the International Astronomical Union – the IAU president. So maybe we can talk a little bit about that and what’s keeping you busy these days?

Jacinta: [00:25:14] First of all, what is the IAU?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:25:16]  Right, so the International Astronomical Union is the worldwide organization that brings all of the professional astronomers together, so 13 and a half thousand from more than 80 member countries in more than a hundred different nationalities. And our mission is basically to promote and safeguard astronomy in all of its aspects. And of course through international cooperation. That is the key word that we are doing, the international cooperation. And these days, that’s much more than just bringing astronomers together to talk about research and to have conferences, etc. That’s the sort of the traditional role of the IAU. Now we also use astronomy as a tool for education in terms of outreach, and also as a tool for development.

Dan: [00:26:14]  And that’s actually what brings you here to Cape Town.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:26:16]  Yes, yeah, we are very proud of our Office of Astronomy for Development. So this is not the development of astronomy. This is really using astronomy as a development tool in various countries.

Jacinta: [00:26:30]  And is this your first time to South Africa?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:26:32]  Yes, it’s long overdue.

Jacinta: [00:26:35]  What do you think so far?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:26:36]  I like it a lot. It’s a beautiful area that you have here.

Dan: [00:26:41]  The SAAO hosts here the Office for Astronomy for Development here in Cape Town on our site. And this week we are hosting a Science for Development Workshop, which you’re attending. What has been your impression of that and how does science help assist in development?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:26:58]  So if I take a step back, if you just look at what the OAD has achieved so far, so it’s really amazing what the director, Kevin Govender and his team have done.

It’s basically building a worldwide network here in Africa between various African countries, but then also worldwide through the regional offices of the OAD. And each of these offices, here in Africa, there are three, actually -Western Africa, Eastern Africa, Southern Africa – they all have their own set of activities and the measures that they’re taking in order to bring astronomy to the people, but also to use it to train students in skill sets that are useful elsewhere in society.

So think of big data, think of technologies, but also think of the inspiration that astronomy brings. And that sort of gets young children excited to go into STEM subjects. And we see that happening actually across the entire globe. So we wonderfully had all of the representatives from these offices worldwide here together as well.

They’re also attending this workshop on Science for Development. So with this workshop, we’re taking it one step broader because if you, if you’re doing, for example, an intervention in, say, Nigeria in a refugee camp, then you can use astronomy to inspire children there. But at the same time, you probably need social scientists. You maybe need some psychologists on your team in order to make that intervention really work.

And so I think that is what we are trying to do here is bring sort of different communities together so that we can make – build teams – build multidisciplinary teams in order to make the world a better place.

Jacinta: [00:28:57] And one of those projects that’s funded by the Office of Astronomy for Development is of course, the Molo Mhlaba project, which we featured in episode 19 and we hear that you got a chance to go visit the girls.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:29:10]  Exactly yeah. When I visit, I didn’t, don’t just want to see the office itself. I really want to see the projects in action. So I was really delighted that Margherita Molaro actually took me to visit Khayelitsha and see the school. It’s also, we spent about an hour there talking with the head of the school, but also seeing  the children in action and all the kinds of activities. They were also, you know, using Lego to build the robotic elements, so it was really very interesting to see that under these very difficult circumstances, this little oasis of young girls being trained there. So it was a fantastic experience.

Dan: [00:29:52] That’s a wonderful project.

Jacinta: [00:29:54]  Okay. And right, getting back on track with the IAU. What is it like being the president?

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:30:00]  The way the IAU works is actually that we have four officers that do the bulk of the work. So it’s the president, it’s the general secretary, it’s the president elect, and it is the assistant general secretary, and it’s really the general secretary that does the bulk of the work -it is more than a hundred percent job – so I’m very fortunate that I have a very good general secretary. The president is also doing quite a lot of activities. It’s more of the outward-looking part towards the community. So I try wherever I can to help and visit regions, and see where my visit, my presence can sort of give a push to certain projects to move them forward.

Of course, also in terms of organization, I’ve had a very interesting and very busy year. It was the one hundred year celebrations of the IAU. Last year we had our one hundred year celebrations and we actually organized more than 5,000 activities a year in more than 140 countries. So it was one long and very interesting stretch. So we had basically one full year of activities, and in January we started with a hundred hours of astronomy with the amateurs.  In February, we had the women and girls in astronomy. Then later in the year, we had the celebration of a hundred years of the solar eclipse with which Eddington proved that Einstein was right, the famous 1919 solar eclipse. Then we had the moon landing. Then, of course, the Name Exo-Worlds that we just talked about. So it has been a wonderful experience and it has sort of energized also, so much activities around the world. So I’m really, well it’s heartwarming to see that.

Jacinta: [00:32:10]  And it’s not quite over yet.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:32:11]  Indeed. We have our final IAU100 activity coming up on Valentine’s day, 30 years since the iconic pale blue dot image was taken by the Voyager I mission – the Voyager turning around when it was already past Saturn and looking back at Earth one more time and taking this famous picture, and Carl Sagan words: that’s us – that tiny little dot.

Jacinta: [00:32:38] The pale blue dot. It’s definitely a romantic picture to celebrate on Valentine’s day,

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:32:43] But also I’d say it shows, you know how tiny we are, the tiny little rock that we are living on – there somewhere in the outskirts of our galaxy. We’d better take good care of our planet.

Jacinta: [00:32:55]  Absolutely.

Dan: [00:32:56]  It’s very precious.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:32:57] Very precious.

Jacinta: [00:32:59]  And the other connection that Cape Town has very strongly to the IAU is that the IAU general assembly will be hosted here in 2024.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:33:06]  Indeed, after a century, the IAU is finally coming to Africa for its general assembly. So I’m really delighted that that is happening. I visited the conference center – just the other day, and it looks very good, especially with the new additions. Now it’s large enough to hold the IAU general assembly, but it’s hopefully also sending a signal to Africa, not just South Africa, the entire continent, that this is an opportunity.

This is an opportunity not just for the young astronomers and senior astronomers to attend the general assembly, but we really would like to see also, you know, young astronomers – on the program presenting results, and so that is a very good goal to work towards in the coming four years, that the community is built up and that they can have a very strong presence also on stage at the general assembly in 2024.

Dan: [00:34:06]  It’s really exciting. We look forward to welcoming you back.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:34:09] My pleasure.

Dan: [00:34:10] Hopefully you come before then too, though.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:34:13]  Very possibly, yes. Would be my pleasure to do so.

Dan: [00:34:18]  Well, thank you very much for joining us. We really, really appreciate it. It’s wonderful to talk to you.

Jacinta: [00:34:24]  Thank you so much.

Dan: [00:34:24]  Enjoy the rest of your stay – I hope you get to see some of the sites and all the best.

Ewine van Dishoeck: [00:34:30]  Thank you. And keep up the excellent work that you’re doing here.

Dan: [00:34:39]  I really enjoyed that interview.

Jacinta: [00:34:41] I did too.

Dan: [00:34:42] She spoke wonderfully. It was very interesting. I certainly learned a few things.

Jacinta: [00:34:46]  Yeah. I didn’t know that the water on the Earth is older than the solar system – than the sun.

Dan: [00:34:51]  Yeah, no, nor me. I was a firm believer in the comet theory, but you know hers kind of makes more sense actually.

Jacinta: [00:34:58]  Asteroids and planetesimals.

Dan: [00:34:59]  Well, yeah, so sort of it formed before the solar system formed. It was sitting in these small rocks and things, which then formed the Earth itself.  I mean, it’s pretty interesting that the water we drink,…

Jacinta: [00:35:13]  Yeah. So next time you have a glass of water, I just think how old it is.

Dan: [00:35:16]  These molecules formed over 5 billion years ago.

Jacinta: [00:35:19]  Kind of blows you away. And it was also pretty amazing that we’re getting closer to finding habitable planets.

Dan: [00:35:26]  Yeah. Finding planets is a really big deal. And as she mentioned, the Nobel prize for last year was given to the search for exo-planets. I mean, we found over 4,000 – now are we finding more and more each day. And it is kind of just a matter of time before we find ones which look like they are in the habitable zone.

Jacinta: [00:35:47]  Well, we found ones that are in the habitable zone, but even ones that are habitable.

Dan: [00:35:51]  In the habitable zone of the sort of right size, and…

Jacinta: [00:35:55]  and contain water and oxygen.

Dan: [00:35:58] So it is just a matter of time, I think

Jacinta: [00:36:02]  I think it’s a little ways away, but we’re getting closer.

Dan: [00:36:05]  The TESS telescope is finding a lot of these things. That’s very exciting.

Jacinta: [00:36:12]  Yeah. And we’ve found that whole zoo of exo-planets ranging from big gas giants and big planets that are closer in to their stars than we think they should be, and little like rockier ones. We haven’t found any tiny ones yet, I think because they’re quite hard to find.

Dan: [00:36:32]  We found a few, but they are hard to find.

Jacinta: [00:36:36]  So much exciting stuff happening.

Dan: [00:36:37] And we’ll learn a lot about how planets form, which is, again, what Ewine was talking about and is very, very interesting actually.

Jacinta: [00:36:45]  Yeah. And I hadn’t actually seen the pictures of the tracks that had been carved out by planets as they were orbiting their baby stars.

Dan: Yeah, we’ll definitely post that on the blog.

Jacinta: It was seen with ALMA. So cool. Well, that was an exciting episode to start the year with.

Dan: [00:37:02]  Particularly the quiz. No, I’m joking.

Jacinta: [00:37:04] That was the highlight. I enjoyed putting you through that, Dan. So, uh, yeah, I guess that’s it for today.

Dan: [00:37:14] Thanks very much for listening, and we hope you’ll join us again for the next episode of the Cosmic Savannah.

Jacinta: [00:37:18]  You can visit our website, www.thecosmicsavannah.com where we’ll have links related to today’s episode. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @cosmicsavannah. That’s Savannah, spelled S-A-V-A-N-N-A-H.

Dan: [00:37:32]  Special thanks today to Professor Ewine van Dishoeck for speaking with us.

Jacinta: [00:37:36]  Thanks to Mark Allnut for music production. Janas Brink for the astrophotography. Lana Ceraj for graphic design and Thabisa Fikelepi for social media support.  Also to Thabisa Fikelepi, Lynette Delhaize and Sumari Hattingh for transcription assistance.

Dan: [00:37:51]  We gratefully acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation and the South African Astronomical Observatory to help the podcast running.

Jacinta: [00:37:58]  You can subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you’d like to help us out, please rate and review us and recommend us to a friend. We would really appreciate it. And thanks to everyone who has already done so.

Dan: [00:38:11]  And we’ll speak to you next time on the Cosmic Savannah.

Jacinta: [00:38:13]  Let me ask you, Dan, what was your favorite episode in 2019?

Dan: [00:38:28]  The black holes, the EHT – the event horizon telescope.

Jacinta: [00:38:32]  Yeah. That was a good episode where we interviewed Roger and Rhodri Evans.

Dan: [00:38:36]  I mean, it was just a super exciting episode. I saw a talk the other day and they were showing three big images, which have kind of changed the world in terms of astronomy. The one was the pale blue dot. What was the other one? I think it might’ve been the one from the first Apollo mission that went around the moon looking back at the Earth with the moon in the foreground. And then the third one was the EHT, the black hole, which I don’t know if I entirely agree with.

But it’s pretty cool. Yeah, and I think that the, what they were showing was that it was seen by four and a half billion people or something – that image. We didn’t get four and a half billion listeners on our podcast. People need to get themselves together!

Jacinta: [00:39:26]  It is all about us.

Dan: [00:39:28]  What was your favorite episode?

Jacinta: [00:39:31]  I can’t choose. Oh, there were so many. I love the one that I loved recording the most was episode 19 – the Molo Mhlaba one because I got to go out to the school and talk with the girls and they were so full of life. I also obviously liked the two that I got to record in Australia. Just like, kind of show everyone my home. And I think, like content wise, I liked episode three, which was the one about SETI. The breakthrough listen project with MeerKAT, because I didn’t realize that we could use MeerKAT to search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and that is super cool.

Dan: [00:40:07]  Exciting news. I won’t, I’m not sure I’m allowed to share it.

Jacinta: [00:40:11]  What? What aren’t you allowed to share?

Dan: [00:40:14]  Well, I don’t want to say it cause I’m not sure I’m allowed to share it. It’s, I mean,…

Jacinta: [00:40:20]  Okay, well, we’ll have a conversation off air.

Dan: [00:40:23] Yeah, it’s,… Yeah. Okay.

Episode 19: Astro Molo Mhlaba

with Mahaneng “Honey” Phali , Dr Margherita Molaro and the Astro Molo Mhlaba facilitators

In Episode 19 we learn all about the inspirational Astro Molo Mhlaba project in Khayelitsha (Cape Town). This project targets the issues of inclusivity and diversity in South African astronomy by engaging the most underrepresented group – black girls from under-served communities.

Donations can be made at: https://www.globalgiving.org/fundraisers/31504/

Dr Margherita Molaro and Honey Phali, the programme coordinators, join us to explain what Astro Molo Mhlaba is, how it works, why it was established, and the benefits to the community.

From primary and high school to university, Astro Molo Mhlaba aims to inspire and support girl learners in pursuing careers in astronomy and other branches of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

We visit the girls during the international day of Astronomy in Schools, while they demonstrate their astronomy knowledge through song to their parents and community.

We then get a chance to speak with four recently matriculated girls who have been acting as ‘facilitators’ of the programme throughout 2019. We hear their first-hand impressions of the project and how they feel it will impacted their lives and the lives of the school girls.

Astro Molo Mhlaba received funding from the Office of Astronomy for Development and was the winner of the International Astronomical Union’s Women & Girls in Astronomy Prize.

This week’s guests:

Related Links

Featured Image:
Students at the Astro Molo Mhlaba Festival for the IAU Astronomy in Schools Day.

Transcript:

Jacinta: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Cosmic Savannah with Dr Jacinta Delhaize

Dan: [00:00:08] and Dr. Daniel Cunnama. Each episode, we’ll be giving you a behind the scenes look at the world class astronomy and astrophysics happening under African skies.

Jacinta: [00:00:17] Let us introduce you to the people involved, the technology we use, the exciting work we do, and the fascinating discoveries we make.

Dan: [00:00:24] Sit back and relax as we take you on a safari through the skies.

Hello and welcome to episode 19!

Jacinta: [00:00:38] this is our last one of 2019 so that worked out well.

Dan: [00:00:41] That was all the plan. It wasn’t

Jacinta: Was it?

Dan: No

Jacinta: [00:00:45] Complete coincidence. Most of this episode will be in English, but parts will be translated into Xhosa by Akhona Bunzi, Andisiwe Shasha and Okuhle Mjali, and part will be translated into Sesotho by Naletsana Chapi.

Okuhle: [00:01:06] [Xhosa translation coming soon]

Naletsana: [00:01:12] [In Sesotho] Interview/Inthaviu (Puisano) enana e tla ba ka Sekgowa haholo emapaneng Naletsana o tla e etsa ka Sesotho.

Jacinta: [00:01:19] Actually, you can also head on to our website where we’ll have transcriptions of many of our episodes, including this one. It may come out a little later after the episode itself airs, but there will be a transcription so you can read along as you’re listening, at least to the English parts.

And if we can manage to find the translator, perhaps also the other languages.

Dan: [00:01:37] So what are we talking about today?

Jacinta: [00:01:39] We’ve got a bumper episode. Today we’re going to be talking about the Astro Molo Mhlaba program, and this is a really fantastic initiative to teach astronomy to primary and high school girls in disadvantaged areas near Cape Town in South Africa.

Dan: Molo Mhlaba

Jacinta: Molo Mhlaba, do you know what it means?

Dan: [00:02:01] I don’t actually… welcome?… it’s… hello. World.

Jacinta: [00:02:05] Yeah.

Dan: [00:02:06] Hello world. Oh, there we go!

Jacinta: [00:02:09] It’s Xhosa

Dan: [00:02:10] Xhosa

Jacinta: [00:02:12] Oh it’s hard. I can’t pronounce it.

Dan: [00:02:13] It’s hard for me too,

Jacinta: [00:02:14] But it’s an African language?

Dan: [00:02:17] South African, predominantly Southern, South Africa

Jacinta: [00:02:20] Right. Molo Mhlaba is a Xhosa word for “hello world”

Dan: [00:02:24] which is the first thing you’ll learn to do if you ever learn coding.

Jacinta: [00:02:28] Exactly. Print hello world. So, and that’s really relevant because this particular school, it’s a pan-African Montessori school, and it has this particular focus on teaching young black girls STEM, coding, robotics. And so having a name that means hello world is quite relevant. That’s very cool. So this school is in a township called Khayelitsha.

Perhaps Dan, you’d like to explain what a township is?

Dan: [00:02:53] A township is, it’s a previously disadvantaged community. So during the apartheid era, a lot of communities were removed from the city centers or sort of affluent areas and put in what was called townships. So there were these small towns, some semi-formal, some more formal than others in terms of the housing.

And these have then since become suburbs, which are predominantly full of previously disadvantaged people. And you, you spoke to a couple of people about how this school came about.

Jacinta: [00:03:28] Yeah, that’s right. So I spoke to Dr Margherita Molaro, who is an astronomer at the University of the Western Cape. And, she started an astronomy program in association with this Molo Mhlaba school.

And also I was speaking with Mahaneng “Honey” Phali, or Honey for short. Who is the Molo Mhlaba program manager, and also coordinates the Astro Molo Mhlaba program. And they were explaining to me sort of the genesis. So this whole Molo Mhlaba concept was started by Dr Rhetabile Mashale-Sonibare who is a really fantastic, inspirational woman.

She started a nonprofit called the Thope foundation in 2013 and Honey was working with them for quite a while and she was working up to six days a week, and this was sort of an after-school tutoring program for science and mathematics for girls in these underprivileged areas, particularly in Khayelitsha, but they ended up with so many students that they were tutoring that they decided they may as well start a school.

And so that’s how they started Molo Mhlaba school.

Dan: [00:04:33] And then how did the astronomy get involved?

Jacinta: [00:04:36] Right. So then Margherita heard about this school, this program, and she just really wanted to get involved in any way possible. And being an astronomer, the logical thing that she could bring to the table was astronomy. So she applied for a grant from the office of astronomy for development, the OAD.

So Dan, perhaps you can explain what that is.

Dan: [00:04:57] Yeah. So the office for astronomy development is based here at SAAO in Cape Town. Uh, and it is an international organization, which falls under the international astronomical union, the IAU, which is celebrating its hundredth year this year. And they set up this office for astronomy development about 10 years ago here.

And they manage projects around the world, to try and use astronomy to promote development. So they’re driven by the sustainable development goals, and they try to fund and support projects which will be contributing to development. And I mean this, the Molo Mhlaba, it’s the perfect example of one of these.

Jacinta: [00:05:39] Yeah. So, and it’s quite competitive to get one of these OAD grants, but Margherita was successful. And so she decided to start this, this Astro Molo Mhlaba program. And it’s. Actually really amazing the way that it’s been set up. So it’s sort of like a multi-tiered program. So Margherita and professional female astronomers such as myself, teach four recently matriculated girls.

So girls who have just finished high school, um, and haven’t yet started university, but are interested in STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering, mathematics. So we teach them and we also teach the grade Eleven’s at several high schools in Khayelitsha and in Philippi. And those schools are Manyano and Sophumelela.

We teach them weekly, astronomy classes after school. And this is called the Astronomy Academy. And then the four matriculated girls, they’re called facilitators. So they receive additional tutoring in astronomy, and then they go and teach primary school girls. So, some of the grade ones at Molo Mhlaba school itself, and also some grade sixes from Luleka and Chumisa schools.

So altogether the program manages to reach many, many girls in underprivileged areas. And that ties in with part of the mandate of the Molo Mhlaba school, which is to serve other girls in the community who didn’t have the opportunity to attend the Molo Mhlaba school itself.

Dan: [00:07:08] So the Molo Mhlaba only allows a certain number of students then obviously, yes.

But the project, the Astro Molo Mhlaba actually serves larger than just the Molo Mhlaba school.

Jacinta: [00:07:19] Yeah, exactly. And this is actually one of the major parts of Honey’s work. She’s the program manager and reaches out to the other schools and gets them involved in this.

Dan: [00:07:28] I assume that this project’s been very successful.

Jacinta: [00:07:31] Yeah. Astro Molo Mhlaba has been very successful, so it actually was the winner of the International Astronomical Union’s Women and Girls in Astronomy prize. The International Astronomical Union is what we mentioned before, and this is the international body of astronomers. It’s sort of the official organization of astronomers in the world.

And as you said, this is its 100th anniversary. And as part of that, there’s, there’s many different celebrations and many different prizes. And so as we’ll hear from Margherita in a moment, they organized a fantastic event for the international day of women and girls in astronomy. And for that they won a prize.

And the prize was a trip to Japan, to Tokyo to attend the IAU Symposium of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Astronomy. So Honey went on that trip and we’ll hear from her in a moment about the impression that she had and what she learned.

Dan: [00:08:23] And how have you been involved personally?

Jacinta: [00:08:24] Only a little bit so far.

Margherita and Honey and Rethabile and all of these people are running the vast majority. I’ve just taught some grade Eleven’s one class, which was a lot of fun, and then I managed to attend recently, a few weeks ago, there was the IAU100 Astronomy Day in Schools where the IAU was encouraging, astronomers to go into their communities to go into schools.

And so as part of that Margherita and Astro Molo Mhlaba organized a big, sort of astronomy festival where the girls could present what they’ve learned to the parents and their teachers. And the audience. And they did it mostly through song, because this is what the girls love to communicate with.

And you’ll hear that in a moment, how much joy they’re expressing through their song. So perhaps, let’s go ahead and listen to part of our conversation with Margherita and Honey.

Jacinta: With us in the studio now is Dr. Margherita Molaro and Mahaneng “Honey” Phali. Welcome Margherita and Honey.

Honey [00:09:36]: Thank you for having us

Margherita [00:09:38]: Hi thank you so much for having us

Jacinta  [00:09:40]: First of all let’s start with who are you, tell us a bit about yourself 

Honey [00:09:44]: Ok my name is Mahaneng Honey Phali and I am a programs manager at Molo Mhlaba school and I am also a coordinator at molo mhlaba astronomy project.

Margherita  [00:09:55]: I’m Margherita Molaro, I work as a postdoctoral researcher at the University Western Cape in the astrophysics department and I coordinate the Astro Molo Mhlaba programme at the Molo Mhlaba school

Jacinta [00:10:03]: So where are you both from?

Honey [00:10:05]: Originally from the Northwest province and moved in cape town in late 2015 and I came back in early 2016..yeah I joined Thope Foundation which is an organisation that Molo Mhlaba was birthed from in June yeah so I am now a Cape Townian

Jacinta [00:10:27] So am I 

Margherita [00:10:28]: I am originally from Italy, and I’ve been here in cape town for three years now…which is hard to believe coz it feels like I moved here yesterday..but it’s already been three years

Jacinta [00:10:42]: Yeah I’ve just passed my first year anniversary…it went so fast

Honey  [00:10:44]: happy anniversary!

Jacinta [00:10:45] Alright so you have mentioned Molo Mhlaba a few times…so Molo Mhlaba is an all girls school in Khayelitsha 

Honey [00:11:00] : Yes it’s the first private school, montessori pan african private school in Khayelitsha – we are here surviving and trying to educate underserved black girls in their communities and to place them in the field of science 

Jacinta [00:11:14]: Fantastic . So you mention it is a private school – what does that mean?

Honey  [00:11:18]: By private I don’t mean we have money – It’s an independent school, it’s a non-profit which is basically dependent on funding

Jacinta [00:11:26]: So what’s the importance of having an all girls private school in Khayelitsha

Honey [00:11:30]: We have discovered that girls do well when they are in a single sex environment, so this is why we came with this school because there is a lot of distraction, there’s a lot of competition, and you know in townships there is no safety so the first school for girls in Khayelitsha is addressing all the issues that were not addressed. 

Jacinta  [00:11:54]: That’s brilliant. So that brings us to astronomy, which is the topic of this podcast, the Cosmic Savannah.  So Margherita you started an astronomy academy in association with Molo Mhlaba – tell us about that.

Margherita  [00:12:05] : Yeah so the idea was to introduce an astronomy program both at the school but also in other primary  schools in Khayelitsha to involve the younger girls in fun astronomy activities and of course I mean the hope is that they will all become astronomers but you know also more realistic goals would be to just give the girls an opportunity to engage with science in a way that’s fun and to allow them to see science and astronomy as something that they are entitled to enjoy as much as anyone else. So this is really our primary goal. Then we also have a programme that also targets high school girls so this what we call our Astro Academy – so the one with the younger girls is our astro clubs and the one with the high school girls is our astro academy. And there we involve girls in grade 11 and we do activities with them that also attempt to convey the fact that science doesn’t have to be just a boring school subject. Astronomy is one of the most fascinating sciences – I mean we are both astronomers Jacinta

Jacinta  [00:13:13] Yeah this is a bit of a biased audience…I wholeheartedly agree with you 

Margherita  [00:13:17] So astronomy’s really. It’s such a, it’s such an easy way to show kids how science can be incredibly fascinating and fun – for example during one of our classes we did timescales in the universe and length scales and it blows your mind, which is what we want our girls to experience. So this is another target of our programme. I should..this is my little love message to the Sophumelela girls, who are actually not based in Khayelitsha, they are based in Philippi, so …Yes a different community, quite a long way away, but they reached out to us and they said we want to participate, so we sent a bus to fetch them on the first day we held at Manyano there were so many of them we had to send the bus back to fetch more who wanted to attend and finally we said you know what, we’ll just have to organise this at your school as well, and there was a bit of difficulty communicating with the school itself but the girls basically organised our visits themselves, you know they were communicating with us on whatsapp, we just showed up they said we’ll find a class, and you know we just held the lessons with them and it was just so inspiring to see how much they wanted to be part of the programme. It was just a joy to be around them, really. Full of initiative, full of passion, it was just a rewarding part of the programme.

Jacinta  [00:14:55]: Well done girls!

Margherita  [00:14:57]: They are fantastic.

Jacinta  [00:14:58] I love the sort of tiered approach that you’ve gone with – so the astronomers and yourself teach the facilitators – the four girls who have already finished highschool and are now waiting for university entrance – and then the astronomy and the facilitators teach the year 11s . And so I also managed to go for one of these

Margherita: Of course!

Jacinta For one session to help out the girls I was teaching them logarithms in space and why we need them for distances, and I didn’t tell you this but while I was teaching I was like oooh that’s why we use them. And so that was a great experience and the girls were so enthusiastic about everything.

Margherita: [00:15:42] Yeah so it’s local female astronomers from cape town who teach the academy girls and the reason for that is that we wanted to expose them to role models and as you said the reason for having a tiered approach is really to address the fact that obstacles that get in the way of having astronomy get into science happen at so many levels, right, so for example when we are targeting younger girls, the message we want to get across is that science is for girls too, because at that age you know if it’s just to do with the toys they are exposed to, or the products that are advertised to them, a lot of the space ones would be targeting boys, this is something that’s done not just in South Africa but all over the world – so it’s important to reach them there so that we can fight that idea early on. But then of course once you get to high school there are other obstacles,  I want to pursue a career in science, but I don’t have any examples of women who have done that, I don’t have someone that I feel I can easily approach to ask questions on how that career can be pursued – so one of the reasons for having female astronomers there was that we could provide those information to the girls and the tiered approach is really to do with the fact that we unfortunately have to deal with the fact that we have limited resources, we can’t employ people full time to teach these lessons, and so the idea of having some of the older girls teach the younger girls is really a great way for us to maximise our resources but also to provide these girls, the facilitators, with the opportunity to have remunerated employment whilst learning about astronomy

Jacinta  [00:17:36]  Ok so why astronomy? Margherita you already mentioned that we can use astronomy as a hook to get girls interested in STEM and to provide role models – you said that the girls from Philippi were so interested that they reached out to you and created a whole opportunity for themselves – but for people from developing backgrounds why is this important? 

Margherita  [00:17:58] : So, yeah, as you said, astronomy is such a, as we were saying before, astronomy is such a fascinating science. It’s a very easy way of hooking young people. Also adults in, you know, cause we are asking the big questions, what’s out there? You know, how did the universe evolve. But also in South Africa in particular, astronomy provides so many opportunities because astronomy in South Africa is really booming.

It’s so exciting to be a part of it because both through projects like SALT but also the SKA being built there is so much investment into reaching more and more young people to allow them to enter careers in astronomy. But another thing we want to achieve through this programme is to make sure that students but also parents from communities where financial concerns are very pressing understand that astronomy is a career that can also bring other skills alongside, you know, the more scientifically strict ones for example analytic skills, or computing skills, data science skills, that you know are highly sought after in industry as well as in research, and so if students do become passionate about research, astro, it doesn’t preclude them from pursuing other careers. So I guess really what we want is for them to understand what a career in astronomy is actually like. So that they can make an informed decision if they decide to pursue a career in research 

Jacinta  [00:19:25]  Ok so Honey you work with the girls on sort of a  more day-to-day basis, how has your experience of the programme been and how do you feel about how this is going to influence these girls in their future?

Honey  [00:19:38] So historically the face of science has been a man, and it’s always been white, so we are trying to change the face of science and where the science is made when we started with Thope Foundation we wanted girls to have confidence to see science to see the application of science in their day to day life, because you know the perception with science and maths is always that it is a difficult subject and you must only be in town schools … to be acing in these subjects, and it’s not the truth; we wanted to inspire these girls, to mentor them to participate in science and we’re doing that in astronomy because the field is booming in astronomy so we wanted to place as many girls, motivate them and encourage them in the field of astronomy, this is our mission. I don’t have a background of science but I’m also learning a lot and I sit in the classes and listen, and it is mind blowing triggering, what you’ve always been prevented to think about you know and when you enter that space your mind just goes crazy you think about the universe, how it evolves, and the planets, and I read a lot – sometimes they’ll say pluto is a dwarf planet, and then another astronomer will say actually no, it is a planet. So it’s always interesting to find out this information. And you know last night I was looking at my youtube and the majority of my channels are like astronomy news.

So it’s really interesting and it’s mind provoking and you do it – you follow your pace and you allow the mind to work, because your mind does ask itself these questions and it’s like we’re told you won’t get any answers but when you are in this space where your work is to find answers, to find the impossible right, the girls are very excited to be working you know in this project to be participating you know. We had a festival you know two weeks ago before I went to Japan and it was amazing and it was so fun you know to see girls tell us about the planets and give us the characteristics of the planets, and it was not just a concept in school that you would just do to pass the curriculum but applying it in their daily life and seeing it. 

Jacinta  [00:22:15] Yeah I had the pleasure of actually attending this festival and watching it and it was so much fun – so just tell us a bit more about the festival and why it happened. 

Honey  [00:22:24] So the festival was to invite the parents and the teachers of these learners because we work in their spaces and not all of them actually understand what we are doing so we Margherita told us – we actually planned it on whatsapp 

Margherita:  [00:22:43] That’s where most of our planning takes place

Honey  [00:22:46]: She just sent a text the other day and said I think we should do a festival to showcase the work that the facilitators do and the afterschool space in … and showcase this work, and we continued with it I didn’t think it was that serious but we know we got to realise the girls were so excited that they came up with their own ideas and the hall was full, we had parents we also had from the OAD office, Kevin was there, he’s always supporting us in this project also Takalani was there and we were so appreciative of that. 

Margherita  [00:23:24] : So yes this is Takalani Nemaungani who is actually the director for multiwavelength astronomy at the DST and we were so honoured to have him attend and it was so great to have someone who is involved at the forefront of the astronomy revolution in South Africa and to bring it to a community that too often is excluded from this excitement. So to have him there and share this incredible stage of South Africa astronomy with the parents and the children was very special. 

Jacinta [00:23:56]:  And why was the event held in the first place?

Margherita [00:23:59]: We were celebrating the Astronomy in Schools day – so the IAU holds a lot of these special days, international days where outreach projects throughout the world hold events in schools to bring astronomy closer to them. So actually the event that kicked off our programme was the IAU international day of women and girls in astronomy and we were very excited to win a prize for it, so out of all of the projects that were held around the world we were very very excited to win!

That’s right we represented South Africa to the international stage and we were very lucky to win a grant to attend the IAU’s symposium on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Astronomy which was held in Tokyo which Honey attended to represent the project 

Jacinta [00:24:52]  Ok we’re gonna talk all about Japan in a moment…so I have one last question: what did you do for this IAU girls and women event?

Margherita  [00:25:00]: So for the day we had a lot of activities organised for the girls, where they learned about planet earth, planets in the solar system, the shape of galaxies, which was very fun, we actually had an astronaut attend!

Jacinta [00:25:12] Ooh what??

Margherita:  [00:25:13] Super exciting 

Jacinta [00:25:15] That I didn’t know about!


Margherita  [00:25:17]: Oh you didn’t? So Ellen Baker who is an american astronaut actually attended the event. She was taken to us by Kevin from the OAD directly from the airport. We were just so honoured to have her attend and it was really great, it’s already been really great.

Jacinta  [00:25:35]: Gosh I had already FOMO for missing out on that event because I was in Australia but now it’s even more … I did get to meet the girls and watch their fantastic performances a few weeks ago so that was amazing. 

Ok so now Honey, the part I’ve been waiting for, is to ask about your time in Japan.  So as Margherita said you travelled to an IAU international conference in Japan, and so tell us first of all what the conference was about and why did you go

Honey  [00:26:06]  So the conference that I attended in Japan was the IAU Conference around Equity Diversion and Inclusion in the field of astronomy so they discussed the exclusions – financial exclusion, gender exclusion, in the field of astronomy and also the different disabilities of people with special needs, how can they be included in the field of astronomy, are they being accommodated to their full capacity, because there’s like talks that were going on for years that if you’re blind or if you are partially blind you cannot become an astronomer so those were topics that were being addressed at Tokyo, and also I got an opportunity to present about our work the things that we do in South Africa with Molo Mhlaba and Molo Mhlaba astronomy academy.

Jacinta [00:27:02]: And how did you feel about the experience, had you been to Japan before?

Honey [00:27:05]:  No and this was actually my first international trip

Jacinta [00:27:10]: Fantastic! Was it scary?

Honey [00:27:12]: It was very scary! 

Margherita [00:27:14]: It’s quite a long way to go for a first international trip 

Jacinta  [00:27:17]: Big exotic trip

Honey [00:27:19]: Because my connecting flight was like in an hour it gave me sleepless nights..you know landing in Doha and from Doha to Tokyo I didn’t know how I was going to get that right but it happened. It went well. 

It really changed my perspective a lot around things, and also in addressing the challenges we have here in South Africa, the high femicide rates, and you know South Africa is not a safe country, so to go to Tokyo to experience a country where there is so much peace, there is safety, it gave me hope and I came back with a different perspective and I am someone who would believe that  it’s probably politics that would change our country but it’s actually not, no amount of politics would change that, it’s as citizens in South Africa being patriotic about our country and saying we love it and we want to take care of it

Jacinta:  [00:28:20] I’m speechless…oh that’s…. yeah I’m kind of speechless. That’s a really amazing perspective and to have gone on just one trip to Japan and to come back with this is really eye opening – how did people respond to what you were saying in Japan when you presented?

Honey [00:28:42]: I had a lot of people coming to me because you know before I presented I was so nervous you know presenting like globally it’s not a child’s play, so I went to the stage and I looked at people like everyone and you know I’m a tall person but I actually felt really like short. It’s not an easy task so I just thought I’m going to give it my all, and you know the feedback and I appreciate every feedback and it was like an awesome feedback, I had the president of the IAU come to me to give me her hand immediately when I stopped when I got off the stage 

Jacinta Oh wow

Honey I had a lot of people, we even got a lot of likes on FB, and she promised that she will come in february

Jacinta What here?

Margherita: Yep

Honey To see our work – because a lot of people honestly liked our project and the concept of our project and you know how much we are you know teaching young girls from early ages from primary schools it’s not usually like that, you only get to be taught regarding astronomy in high school – I remember doing the solar system and the planets in high school and it was just left there. I didn’t see the importance but it warms my heart to see girls knowing all the 8 planets for me it’s impossible but it’s happening , and the future is in science and we’d like to see a lot of black girls accessing that space, dominating it.

Jacinta [00:30:20]  Absolutely . Ok I mean I have so many more questions but maybe it’s time to wrap it up . So two more questions; the first is what do you envision as the future of this programme 

Honey  [00:30:34] I mean with the money that we got we managed to reach 150 girls in townships so my vision is to see all girls participating in astronomy and accessing that space and seeing the girls who live in Khayelitsha you know the surrounding areas other townships in Cape Town of girls who don’t have or who come from a background of not enough accessing that space, learning about the astronomy 

Margherita [00:31:08]: So from my side , I want this to become a permanent project, I want this to be well established well structured so that you know it’s not a matter of 2020 you know we want this to run long term alongside the school, And then you know I am European so I might or will be moving back to Europe so for me my vision is that Molo Mhlaba will run outreach projects in Europe 

Honey [00:31:37]: That’s big!

Margherita [00:31:39] : I want you know this is South Africa reaching European young girls and showing them what’s what. So that’s my vision you know in the long term.

Jacinta  [00:31:49]  Amazing. Ok. So just before we go this episode is coming out fairly close to Christmas and maybe it’s a season of charity and giving, and if anybody would like to donate to the molo mhlaba school and the programme how can they do that?

Margherita  [00:32:06] : You can find the link to our globalgiving page on our website, – www.astromolomhlaba.org/donate hopefully Jacinta and Dan can put the link when they release the episode

Jacinta [00:32:19] Of course it will be right there on our website, but just in case spell molo mhlaba for us

Honey  [00:32:26] So Molo mhlaba is M-O-L-O M-L-A-B-A – you can also find us on our website www.molomhlaba.org and you can also follow us on FB, on twitter, and we accept all kinds of donations 

Margherita  [00:32:43]: I know people say this a lot that every little helps, but trust us, every little helps it really goes a long way to material and opportunities, and all donations go into the community, there is no one who is employed and no material that is used that doesn’t go directly to Khayelitsha – so trust that we will make good use of your money

Jacinta [00:33:05]: And you can donate anywhere around the world?

Margherita  [00:33:07]: That’s right, yes

Jacinta  [00:33:08]: Ok, well thank you so much to both of you for your amazing project and also congratulations to everyone else who’s been involved – fantastic job

Honey [00:33:018]: Thank you 

Margherita[00:33:019]: Thank you so much for having us 

Dan: [00:33:34] Thank you. Very cool. Great to hear Honey’s enthusiasm and that she had this incredible opportunity to go to Japan too. It sounds like it really, it really excited her and blew her mind.

Jacinta: [00:33:47] I’ve been to Japan a couple of times and it also blew my mind. It’s, it’s really different and really amazing.

Dan: [00:33:51] Yeah. And just incredible to hear the work they’re doing.

It’s wonderful. They’ve won this prize and they’ve had some recognition for their work because it does sound like a lot of work and I’m sure they’ve poured their heart and soul into this project.

Jacinta: [00:34:05] Yeah, I mean, and you can sort of hear in their voices how passionate they are about this and how much they believe in it and sort of, and how dedicated they are.

And as you say, just the amount of time that has gone into this, and then it’s producing results already only it’s only been running for I guess less than a year and doing a really fantastic job. So we look forward to hearing what’s going to happen from them in 2020 and beyond.

Dan: [00:34:28] Yeah, and I think it’s just really cool how this sort of tiered approach works that you’re not just hitting students like directly, you’re changing lives the whole way up.

So the facilitators are learning, they’re gaining skills, which then they can take on to their futures. It’s incredible the difference that’s already being made.

Jacinta: [00:34:46] Yeah. And I think it’s always, it’s always such a positive thing to empower people through education of topics like this, to be able to determine their own futures.

Dan: [00:34:54] You attended this festival that they organized?

Jacinta: [00:34:58] Yeah. Oh my gosh. It was so much fun. We can hear it. Would you like to hear it? Yeah. Yeah. So, I’ll play a few recordings that I made on the day. Apologies. It’s a little bit shouty from me. I forgot my headphones.  So I couldn’t tell what the sound levels were, but we hear from some of the little five and six year old girls before their performance, from some audience members, from some parents and then we hear from the girls themselves through their song and performance during the festival. 

Dan: [00:35:28] Well, I’d love to hear it.

Jacinta: [00:36:02] Hello! Here I have some very amazing ladies from the Molo Mhlaba school. Are you excited about performing today?

Children: [00:36:09] Yes!

Jacinta: [00:36:12] And are your parents here to see you? 

Children: Yes!

Jacinta: Okay, and what are you going to sing for us today?

Children: [00:36:19] We sing continents.

Jacinta: [00:36:21] Are you going to be some planets?

Children: [00:36:24] Yes!

Jacinta: [00:36:26] What’s your favorite planet?

Child: Earth!

Jacinta: Earth? That’s a good answer. Why the Earth? Because we’ve got some trees here and some oceans. Okay. What’s your second favorite planet?

Children:  Neptune… Mercury!

Jacinta:  Right, and a big high five to everybody. 

We have some audience members here today. Who do we have?

Kevin: [00:36:52]  Hi, it’s Kevin Govender from the Office of Astronomy for Development.  

Takalani: Takalani Nemaungani from the Department of Science and Innovation.

Renee: [00:37:00] Renee Kraan-Korteweg. An astronomer at the University of Cape Town.

Peter: [00:37:04] Peter Kraan, just married to an astronomer.

Jacinta: [00:37:06] Are you excited about today’s performance?

Kevin:  Yeah, very much so. Looking forward to it.

Jacinta: [00:37:10]  Do you think this is a good project that Margherita and her team are working on?

Takalani: Well, it’s my first time today, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the project. But just being here, you know, in a place like this. Khayelitsha is known for, for some not so good things, but to see something very positive like this here, I’m sure it must be very good.

Renee: [00:37:37] I’m looking forward very much to this. I always really loved the idea of this project. I think it’s great how it has been set up. And I’m looking at all these excited young little girls here and I’m looking forward to see what they will tell us a bit later on. 

Jacinta: Alright enjoy the performance everybody. 

Hello, nice to meet you. What’s your name?

Pamela: [00:37:57] My name is Pamela and I have a daughter here started with the school last year, so this is her second year. And it’s been going great. The exposures, you know, we are in the townships and we are marginalized. It’s a poor township, but, what Molo stands for and what they are bringing to this community is profound.

So I’m thankful to you guys that has brought all these opportunities for the girls. And I’m happy to be here, for my daughter at Molo Mhlaba.

Jacinta: [00:38:39] Do you feel that astronomy, it also is enhancing their education? Do you feel that it’s important for the future?

Pamela: [00:38:44] It’s very important because I think we are already in the fourth industrial revolution, so to propel our girl child specifically. I think it’s profound. It will do wonders for the girl child’s confidence, and it will tap into those fields that have not been, previously tapped into by our girl child. So definitely it is very important.

Jacinta: [00:39:14] Yeah. I mean, I hope that they will continue to learn and be fascinated by the world around them as they continue.

Pamela: [00:39:21] I definitely can see that interest as well, and it’s very exciting also that it’s being started at the grass roots level and that they can grow up with this field and also have such an interest in the field as well. Thank you. Thank you very much that you’ve brought this subject to our girls, in the township of Molo Mhlaba girls school.

Jacinta: [00:39:46] Well, thank you very much for participating and for being here today, and I think we’re about to start, so thanks for speaking with us today. 

Pamela: [00:39:53] Thanks so much.

[Girls singing in Xhosa and about astronomy]

Dan: [00:43:43] It sounds like you had a blast

Jacinta: Oh it was so much fun! And there was a cake stall and I baked some gluten-free banana bread for it. But then I ended up buying most of the banana bread back myself because it was yummy.

Dan: It wasn’t yummy?

Jacinta: It was!

Dan: Yummy gluten-free.

Jacinta: [00:44:00] Yeah! Although the fact that it wasn’t sold already, maybe I was the only one who thought it was good. But I did manage to buy some really nice Molo Mhlaba earrings, which is like a cut-out of the African continent with the Molo Mhlaba symbol on it. So I think you can actually buy them from the website if you want to.

Dan: [00:44:18] They’re not my personal taste, but sure.

Jacinta: [00:44:20] There’s also some really cool bags like shopping bags and stuff.

Dan: [00:44:23] So you also managed to speak to some of the facilitators about their experience of the Astro Molo Mhlaba. Presumably they were at the festival too?

Jacinta: [00:44:31] Yeah, I did. I spoke to Akhona, Andisiwe, Naletsana and Okuhle. I met them first when we were all at the Astro Academy and then again at the astronomy festival.

And then recently they’ve come into the studio to tell us their story and what we’re going to do is play the English questions and responses, and then we’ll repeat that in the African language that the girls speak. So three of them speak Xhosa and one, Naletsana, speaks Sesotho.

Dan: [00:45:58]  Let’s hear from them. I don’t expect to understand the Xhosa or Sesotho but

Jacinta: [00:45:32] That’s okay the rest of the episodes in English.

Here with us in the studio is Akhona Bunzi, Naletsana Chapi, Okuhle Mjali, and Andisiwe Shasha. Apologies for the pronunciation, ladies. Welcome to the studio.

Facilitators: Thank you!

Jacinta: Is this your first time in a studio? 

Facilitators: Yes

Jacinta: It’s absolutely tiny, isn’t it?

Naletsana: [00:45:35] Very tiny.

Jacinta: [00:45:36] So to start with, can you tell our listeners who you are, where you’re from, what your background is, and how you got involved in the Molo Mhlaba astronomy Academy? 

Akhona: [00:45:48] My name is  Akhona Bunzi and I am from Khayelitsha. I went to Masela highschool. I started the program in July. I was doing nothing, literally nothing. I was at home and then Honey called me, our coordinator and she said she asked if I was interested in doing astronomy. Sitting at home doing nothing, it’s absolutely boring, like, it’s terrifying. So I jumped at the opportunity and yeah, I’m here today.

Andisiwe: [00:45:26] My name is Andisiwe, as you said . How I got into Molo Mhlaba, I got a message from Akhona telling me that there’s someone who’s looking for people who are interested in doing astronomy, so fine since I was doing physics and maths last year. So I thought I could take a chance and try some new things that I never thought I’d do one day. So yeah I got to the interview. I was interested. I made a search about astronomy and it interested me like a lot, so I thought that I should take a chance.

Okuhle: [00:46:50] Okay. I’m a Okuhle. I’m from Cape Town, Western Cape. I grew up in Khayelitsha and I went to primary school then after that I went to Masela high school.

Then this year in July I went to Molo Mhlaba  astronomy because I saw this as an opportunity to me because I was too, I was doing nothing this year. So this opportunity came up and I thought that I should just take it.

Naletsana: [00:47:16] Okay. I’m Naletsana Chapi, I’m from the Eastern Cape. I grew up there. I went there. I did my primary there, my high school at SSS then I came here in Cape Town this year. So I saw the opportunity on facebook that Molo Mhlaba is in need of facilitators, then I tried to get hold of them, then that’s how I got that.

Jacinta: [00:47:43] So can you tell us about your experience as facilitators? What was your role in the program and what did you enjoy? What did you think of the program?

Okuhle: [00:47:53] I would facilitator in Molo Mhlaba, it was to teach children about astronomy and show them what it’s like to live in the world of astronomers.

Naletsana: [00:48:03] The astronomers would come to us and share the knowledge with us then we will take the knowledge and share it to the children.

Jacinta: [00:48:10] What was it like teaching the children?

Okuhle: [00:49:12] It was fun but then sometimes we would find out that some kids they want to argue. I do think that’s what made our sessions more interesting

Jacinta: [00:47:58] and they want to argue?

Okuhle: [00:48:23] Yes. If you say this goes like this. And they would say, no, no, no, no, no, no, you are wrong. So you have to argue with them and that made the sessions a lot more fun

Naletsana: [00:48:30] and it’s worse when it comes to the alien part. They thought that the aliens existed. They were so surprised when we told them that the only aliens that exist were the plant aliens.

Jacinta: Were the what?

Naletsana: The plant aliens 

Jacinta: [00:48:44] Plant aliens. So you mean plants from other countries that aren’t supposed to be in this country, not plants from outer space.

Facilitators: [Laugh]

Jacinta: Did you feel that they were very interested in astronomy?

Naletsana: [00:48:58] Yeah they were very interested in astronomy. After they listened, they were asking questions to show that they were interested

Okuhle: [00:49:07] and some of the kids say things that they really take to their, to their lives. Especially the session about the sun, yeah. I will say thing like the sun is helpful because when it’s hot, we go to the sea with our families.

Jacinta: [00:49:20] So they could figure out how astronomy relates to their own lives. Do you think it’s important for them to be learning astronomy at such a young age and then also for the older girls?

Naletsana: [00:49:31] Yeah, it is important.

Okuhle: [00:49:34] Many people they have negative views about our surroundings.Most people say that the Earth is flat, but that’s not true. So the small kids would correct the older people, like, no this thing goes like this.

Jacinta: [00:49:47] Did you learn a lot about astronomy through this course and if so, what did you find the most interesting?

Andisiwe: [00:49:53] I’ve learned a lot. Some of the things I didn’t know, but now at least I have a better understanding of what astronomy is.

I’m not going to choose which topic was best. They were all agreed for me. I enjoyed every topic that I had to teach to the children. It was so exciting

Akhona: [00:49:08] I also learned a lot, but mostly I was interested about the moon topic. For instance, I knew that the moon rotates around the Earth, but I didn’t know that it shows only one face. So that was really interesting for me.

Jacinta: [00:50:23] And did the girls find it interesting?

Andisiwe: [00:50:25] Yes, very Interesting.

Naletsana: [00:50:28] I liked the part of moon phases a lot because when I was growing up, I used to look up in the sky and thought to myself, maybe the Earth has many moons. I didn’t know that it was actually one moon.

Jacinta: [00:50:40] Did you learn anything as a person through this experience?

Andisiwe: [00:50:43] I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learnt that we should accommodate everyone, like we’re working with kids so we shouldn’t be harsh on them. So when I’m with them, I made sure that I must be at their level, like accommodate them because our brains are not functioning in the same way, so I had to try…

Jacinta: [00:51:01] Yeah so you had to think of different ways to talk and to explain

Honey: [00:51:05] exactly. Yeah.

Akhona: [00:51:07] Yeah also, as she said, we shouldn’t be harsh, and as for me, this was, it is a bit challenging because most of all, I really don’t like explaining.

Akhona: [00:51:22] I’m not good also, so when it comes to explaining, I should think of a way of how to bring them close to me so that they could understand and hear. Also voice projection.

Jacinta: [00:51:36] Yeah. It’s really challenging, but well done on challenging yourself and getting through it.

Jacinta: [00:51:45] So now that you’ve been through this program as facilitators, what are your plans for the future, and do you think that this program has helped you out with that in any way?

Okuhle: [00:51:53] Next year, I’m going to upgrade then the following year, I will apply for astronomy. Because in astronomy I learned that you travel a lot. So I want to travel and explore all the things that are surrounding me.

Jacinta: [00:52:05] We definitely travel a lot

Naletsana: [00:52:10] Me too. I’m looking forward to upgrade, especially my maths and science, like physics. You won’t believe when I tell you that it was my first time hearing about this career this year. So I thank you to Molo Mhlaba a lot for introducing me to this career.

Jacinta: [00:52:25]  Wonderful.

Akhona: [00:52:27] My plans for the future. I still want to be a doctor and I want to improve my results and also this year I have applied in UJ for a BA in humanities and also building my self confidence even more.

Andisiwe: [00:52:46] My plans for the future is to become a better person, improve things that I think I’m lacking in. In the future I’d like to be a TV personality and a radio personality. So today is good. Yeah here in the studio. So next year I’ve applied at UJ so I’ll be doing my fourth industrial BA.

Jacinta: [00:53:08] Well good luck for your futures, and I hope that you achieve everything you want and, and really congratulations on the work you’ve done.

Andisiwe: [00:53:15] Thank you. Thank you.

Jacinta: [00:53:17] And finally, do you have any messages you’d like to share with listeners? Anything you’d like to say?

Andisiwe: [00:53:22] Be proud of who you are. Be willing to learn new things, never underestimate yourself. Be true to yourself.

Akhona: [00:53:30] There are always opportunities. If you fail to find the one you want, be excited to try new things, be willing to learn. As she said, that goes a long way. 

Naletsana: Astronomy is a very interesting field to study. I would also advise them to dream big, to dream big.

Okuhle: [00:53:50] I would like to say especially to young girls because especially in South Africa, mostly  the guys do astronomy and they think that we can’t do anything. But us as girls, we can change the world and we have the power to do that. And astronomy is a lot of things that you would want to know and you can explore a lot. Thank you.

Jacinta: [00:54:08] Wonderful advice. Ladies, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Facilitators: [00:54:12] Thank you. Thanks for having us.

[00:54:50] [In Xhosa]

Ok ke Akhona, sizocela usixelele ukuba yintoni ebangela ukuba ubese Molo Mhlaba and ubenomdla woba ubeyi facilitator khona?

So ezuba sewutshilo, igama lam ndingu Akhona. Kulo nyaka uphelileyo bendifunda uGrade 12 and bendi-applyile e-UWC nase CPUT ndathathwa kuzo provisionally. Kodwa kengoku iMaths iilevels zayo zingakhange zibe phezulu khange ndithathwe. Kodwa kuba bendihleli ndinethemba uba zikhona izinto ezinovela, uHoney waye wandifounela ebuza uba ndenzani ntoni kulo nyaka. Kuba bendingenzinto,and uhlala endlini bekungekho right, so ndaye ndavuma and ibinikisa umdla kakhulu into ye-Astronomy, that is why ndilapha namhlanje.

 Kulo nyaka uphelileyo bendisenza ibanga leshumi inesibini eMasiyile, ndiye nda applaya kwi Universities ezithile, ndingabalula i-UCT, UWC neCPUT. Kwenzekile ukuba ndifumane iconditional offer eUCT, kodwa ke kuthe xa sifumana iziphumo kulo nyaka ngo 2019 ndabona ukubana izibalo zam kwakunye nePhysics andiqhubanga kakuhle. Abandithatha bandi-rejecta i-offers. Ndafumana imessage evela ku-Akhona, u-Akhona ngumhlobo wam, so ebendixelela ukubana kukho into enje eyiMolo Mhlaba, efuna facilitators. So nam ndiye ndanomdla ukuba ndize ndizozama, ndifikile ke uHoney wandisendela ilink youkuba ndi-applaye khona, so kuba ndilapha kengk namhlanje.

Umbuzo ubusithi, yinton endizise kwiAstronomy? and ndikhule njani?, ndingubani?, then ndaphendula ndathi ndingu Okuhle, ndikhulele eKhayelitsha, eCape Town, Western Cape, ndifunde eluXolweni Primary School, then ndayofunda eMaseyile, ndaze ndaya eMolo Mhlaba Astronomy, ndayosebenza as ifacilitator yeAstronomy. Kulo mbuzo ubusuthi yinton endizise apha, kulonyaka uphelileyo bendi-plane ukuba ndizoya eVarsity kulonyaka but iResults zam  khange zibe right so khange ndikwazi ukuya eUniversity kulonyaka but ndazixelela uba ndizoUpgrade kulonyaka for uba next year ndingene eVarsity. Umbuzo busithi bekunjani ukusebenza nabantwana, ndaphendula ndathi bekumnandi ukusebenza nabantwana ngoba bebesingaphoxi bebenomdla, uba sibuza umbuzo bayaphendula and naxasesigqibile ukubatitsha baba nemibuzo ababanayo. Omnye wesibini wathi umbuzo yintoni ebalulekileyo for bafunde iAstronomy ngoku besabancinci ngoba abantu abaninzi banembono ezhlukeneyo ngeAstronomy kuhlobo esiphila ngalo, abanye abantu bathi uEarth uflat kanti uEarth akekho flat uround. So abantwana bancinci bazokwaz ukulungisa abantu kumakwabo ukuba babone kakhle ukuba kunjan kulomhlaba esiphila kuwo.

Yintoni ebekudlwengula umxhelo ngeAstronomy and yeyiphi eyona-yona oqonda ukuba uyaythanda kwaye uziva kamnandi xa uthetha ngayo?

Kwitopics zonke ebesizinikwa bezinikisa umdla kakhulu, kodwa eyona-yona ibindinika umdla kum ibiyi-Moon, which is inyanga. Bendiyazi ukuba ijikeleza umhlaba kodwa bendingayazi ukuba ibonakalisa ubuso obunye qho.

Ngeyiphi eyona inikisa umdla kuzo zonke itopics ubuzenza kwiAstronomy?

Zonke bezindinika umdla, andinobalula, ngoba yonke into ebendiyenza bendiyonwabela and bedifumana ulwazi olubanzi obendingalwazi. Kuyo yonke into ebesiyenza bendifunda into entsha rhoqo.

Akhona yinton oyifundileyo kwelixesha besisebenza nabantwana?

Zininzi izinto endizifundileyo, ndingabalula, bendiqhele uku-explainer andkho good kuyo so bekubanzima ngamanye amaxesha uba ndi-explainer so kufuneke uba ndifumane indlela endinothi ndibasondeze kum, ndibacacisele nabo bancacelwe. Neli lizwi lam lincinci so bekubanzima ngamanye amaxesha uba mandikhwaze but ke ndide ndakwazi.

Ok umbuzo ubusith ndifuna ukwenza ntoni mna nge Future yam  and le program yase Molo Mhlaba Astronomy indincede njan? 

Into endizoyenza kulo nyaka uzayo ndizo upgrader cause imarks zam khange ziphume zintle lulo nyaka uphelileyo. So after ndi-upgradile ndi-applayele iAstronomy ndiqhubekeke nayo.

Zithini izicwangciso zakho nge kamva lakho?

Iphupho lam ibikuba ngu Gqirha kodwa ke ndisezophucula apho nalapho ndilekisha khona and kulo nyaka ndi-applayile kwiDyunivesithi yase Johanesburg kwi Humanities and also if kungenzeka ukuba ndiqhubekeke neAstronomy ndingaqhubekeka.

Zithini izicwangciso zakho nge kamva lakho?

 Izicwangciso zam ngekamva lam kukuba ndibengumntu ongcono ndizame ukuphucula umntu esele ndinguye. Ndi-applyile eUJ, ndifumeke ke apho i-offer, kulo nyaka uzayo ndiyakube ndisenza ifourth industrial BA apho eUJ. Ukuba kungakho ithuba lokuba ndenze iAstronomy, ndingalithatha kuba ndifunde kakhulu kwiAstronomy kwaye ndiphele ndiyitanda.

Awunamyalezo orhalela ukuwugqithisa kuba-phula-phuli?

Kubaphula-phuli ndifuna ukuthi ukuba lento ubuyfuna ayphumelelanga, sutyhafa, zikhona ezinye inzame onozenza, akhona amanye aphupha akhoyo, qhubeka unganikezeli.

Akhona amanye amazwi onothi uwanike abaphulaphuli?

Nyaniseka, zithembe, ungazideleli, yonke into eyenzekayo yenzeka ngesizathu, sukuthi ngenxa yokuba ungayfumenanga utyhafe.

Umbuzo uthi ikhona na inti endifuna ukuyithetha for abantu abamameleyo?

I-Astronomy yicareer e-interesting kakhulu, kulo mhlaba esiphila kuwo abantu abaninzi abenza i-Astronomy ngabantu abangabafana, so thina as amantomabazana masiyfunde i-Astronomy sibabonise sinayo ipower yokwenza lento sifuna uyenza.

Naletsana: [01:01:46] [In Sesotho]

Potso e ne e re ke mang, ke tswa kae?

Ke ile ka araba ka re, lebitso laka ke Naletsana Chapi, ke tswa Eastern Cape. Ke holetse moo, ke badile teng. Kabe be ke tla monana Cape Town lemong sena, kabe ke fumana monyetla wa hore ke lo ba part ya (bapala karolo ho) Molo Mhlaba, ka ba facilitator/fasilitheita (motataisi) teng.

Potsong ena e neng e re lemong sena jwalo ka ha ne ke dutse lebaka na ekaba e ne e leng?

Ke ile ka dieha ho etsa ID lemong se fedileng, jwale ke ona mathata a ile a etsa hore dikolo di hane ho nkuka lemong sena.

Potso ene e re ekaba ho jwang ho sebetsa le bana?

Ho sebetsa le bana ho ne ho le hantle haholo, ebile ba ne ba utlwisisa, ba botsa dipotso, ba re pheisa hobane taba ena eo re buwang ka yona hangangata ha re atise ho dumellana ka yona re le batho.

Potso ya bobedi ya botsa hore na ke hobaneng ho le bohlokwa hore bana ba rutwe ka astronomy/aseteronomi (bolepi ba sepakapaka le dikahare tsa teng)?

Ho bohlokwa haholo hore ba hole ba ditseba ntho tsenana, ba seke ba hola ba re lefatshe le flat (folote, polata) kganthe lefatshe le round/raonde (senkgoana).

Potso e ne e re ekaba ho jwang ho sebetsa le bana?

Ke ile ke araba ka re ho monate haholo ho sebetsa le bana ba tlisa energy e ngata (eneji, mafolofolo a mangata), re a pheisana le bona, ho monate.

Enngwe potso ya botsa na ke efeng topic/thopike ebang ke e enjoile le bana ba e enjoile (se feng sehlooho seo e leng hore o ile wa se natefelwa ha mmoho le bana)?

Ka be ke re ke ena ya kgwedi. Nna ha ke hola ne ke sa tsebe hore re na le kgwedi e lengwe, ke ne ke nahana hore re na le kgwedi tse ngata tje ka ha re dutsi re dibona di sa lekane, nengneng e half/halofo (sekoto), nengneng e felletse.

Potso e ne e re na ke batla ho etsang ha nako e ntse e ya, like (jwalo ka) bokamoso baka?

Jwale ke re nna ke batla ho nyolla dimmaraka tsaka, haholoholo ha etla ho tsa Maths le Physics (dipalo le tsa mahlale). Ke rata haholo ho tswellisa astronomy/aseteronomi (bolepi ba sepakapaka le dikahare tsa teng), ke kgalla ho ba astronomer/aseteronoma (molepi ba sepakapaka le dikahare tsa teng).

Potso e ne e re ekaba ke eletsa batho kapa bana ka ho re eng?

Haholoholo bana ba bananyana, ke ba eletsa hore ba be le ditoro tse kgolo, ntho enngwe le enngwe ya etsahala, haholoholo mona ho astronomy/aseteronomi (bolepi ba sepakapaka le dikahare tsa teng). Batho ba bangata hahoholo ke batho ba bontate, batho ba bomme ha bayo. Jwale ke ba eletsa hore re tleng kaofela ntho ena re ka e etsa.

Dan: [01:04:41] Thank you. It’s, once again, wonderful to hear their enthusiasm and that it sounds like they’ve really taken this opportunity by the horns and, also wonderful to hear that they are interested in continuing astronomy now. So you see, it doesn’t just have to be when you’re a small child, you can get interested in astronomy at any age.

Jacinta: [01:04:59] You don’t have to be an astronomer you can still learn about astronomy. Be fascinated by it. Yeah. Well, that’s, that’s pretty much it for today. We’re going to go on a break for the holiday season, a short break. In the meantime, if anyone would like to donate to Astro Molo Mhlaba, Margherita and Honey gave us the details at the start, we’ll put those on our website, right Dan?

Yeah, of course. Yeah. And, if you’re still thinking of any gift ideas for anyone you can actually donate on behalf of someone else and you can get a nice gift certificate.

Dan: [01:05:32] or buy some earrings.

Jacinta: [01:05:33] Yeah, exactly. Earrings or a bag. Lots of things.

Dan: [01:05:37] All right, so I think that’s it for today.

Jacinta: [01:05:39] Yeah. Well happy holidays everybody, and we’ll see on the other side.

Yeah. In 2020

Dan: [01:05:45] yeah, we’ll see you in 2020.

Jacinta: [01:05:47] Thanks very much for listening and we hope you’ll join us again in 2020 for the next episode of the cosmic Savannah.

Dan: You can visit us on our website, www.thecosmicsavannah.com where we’ll post links related to today’s episode. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @cosmicsavannah.

That’s Savannah, spelled S. A. V. A. N. N. A. H.

Jacinta: Special thanks today to Dr Margherita Molaro, Mahaneng Honey Phali, Akhona Bunzi, Andisiwe Shasha, Naletsana Chapi and Okuhle Mjali for speaking with us.

Dan: [01:06:22] Thanks to Mark Allnut for the music production. Janas Brink for the astrophotography, Lana Ceraj for the graphic design and Thabisa Fikelepi for social media support and transcription.

Jacinta: We gratefully acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation and the South African Astronomical Observatory to help keep the podcast running. 

Dan: And for batteries. 

Jacinta: Yes, and lots of batteries for our recorder.

Dan: You can subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, and if you’d like to help us out, please rate us and recommend us to a friend.

Jacinta: [01:06:50] We’ll speak to you next time on The Cosmic Savannah.

Episode 18: Dark skies over Africa

with Carringtone Kinyanjui and Olayinka Fagbemiro

We are joined by the Carringtone Kinyanjui who is a student at the University of Nairobi, Kenya and a member of the Sayari Astronomy Outreach and Astro-Tourism group who promote the dark skies of Africa!

Carringtone talks about his relationship with astronomy and the incredible work the Sayari group is doing in Kenya. The Sayari project involves collaborating with lodges in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, training their guides in ethno-astronomy, light pollution awareness and telescope operation.

The group also runs a great project recording the indigenous knowledge of the African skies by collecting stories from around the country.

Olayinka Fagbemiro, the Assistant Chief Scientific Officer of the National Space Research and Development Agency in Abuja, Nigeria then joins us. Olayinka is also the local coordinator for Astronomers Without Borders in Nigeria.

We chat about the development work that is done by the National Space Research and Development Agency, and some of their achievements in launching satellites from Nigeria as well as the outreach work that is done across Nigeria through the Astronomers Without Borders project.

This week’s Guests:

Related Links:
Sayari Group: http://sayarikenya.org/
University of Nairobi: https://www.uonbi.ac.ke/
Astronomers with Borders Nigeria: https://awbnigeria.com/
Astronomers without Borders: https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/
National Space Research and Development Agency: https://nasrda.gov.ng/en/

Featured Image:
Sayari Outreach in Kenya