Episode 27: A Bamboo Planetarium

with Susan Murabana Owen and Chu Owen

We have an absolutely packed episode for you to enjoy this week!

Firstly, congratulations to the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) on celebrating its 200th anniversary on the 20th of October 2020! In honour of this prestigious occasion, the observatory was given national heritage site status.

A symposium was held (virtually), with talks presenting a wide range of topics from: the history of the observatory and astronomy in South Africa, the cultural aspects and socioeconomic impacts of astronomy, and all the exciting science being done.

Dan, and collaborator Sally Macfarlane (University of Cape Town), recently premiered a new full-length planetarium show focusing on South African astronomy. Together, they incorporate aspects of indigenous knowledge, the history of astronomy in the country, and shots of the various locations – all in a full dome experience. Watch the teaser or follow the links below.

Teaser of the planetarium show Rising Star: A South African Astronomy Journey.

Our featured guests this week are Susan Murabana Owen and Chu Owen. Two astronomers, working in Kenya, passionate about bringing astronomy to everyone, not just those who can afford it. They founded The Travelling Telescope, a social enterprise, in 2014 where Susan serves as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) (she also holds positions as the President of the African Planetarium Society, and serves on the board of the International Planetarium Society), and Chu serves as the Chief Technical Director (CTD) (bringing with a wealth of astrophotography experience).

The Travelling Telescope provides educational tools to aid school teachers, such as a mobile planetarium, a permanent planetarium in Nairobi made of bamboo, a robotics program (partnered with the Airbus Foundation), and virtual reality headsets. Through events hosted, such as the Nairobi star party, they hope to foster sustainable interaction with local communities, and provide a platform for these communities to tell their stories of the African sky.

This week’s guests

Feature Image

The Nairobi Planetarium built out of bamboo. Credit: The Travelling Telescope.

Related Links


Show notes by Timothy Roelf. Transcript by Sambatriniaina Rahjohnson. Social media 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: [00:00:16] 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.


Jacinta: [00:00:35] Welcome to episode 27, everyone. Today, we’ll be hearing from Susan Murabana Owen and Chu Owen who run The Travelling Telescope program in Kenya. But first Dan, it has been quite a week!

Dan: [00:00:49] The busiest of weeks.

Jacinta: [00:00:51] I’m not sure how you’re still standing.

Dan: [00:00:53] Well, I’m not, I’m sitting at the moment and that’s been my state for the last few days.

Jacinta: [00:00:59] Alright. Well, before we get into that, this is the first episode we’ve recorded since the announcement of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics,

Dan: [00:01:07] which once again, went to

Jacinta: [00:01:08] Astronomy!!!

Dan: [00:01:10] Obviously, it’s the best science.

Jacinta: [00:01:16] We’ll deny it, if anyone asks. Yeah. So this year, the Nobel Prize in Physics went to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for “Black holes”.

So Roger Penrose was awarded the prize for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity. So basically some very hardcore maths and physics, astrophysics. Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez was awarded the prize for discovering the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky `way.

And that’s called Sagittarius A*.

Dan: [00:01:54] Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I think that the relativity, obviously from Einstein back in 1915 and black holes were the kind of the singularity, which were predicted and now, I mean, we know about black holes, we know all about them. We know that they’re real and that they abide by the law of relativity.

Jacinta: [00:02:16] Yeah, and I guess Genzel discovered the supermassive black hole by tracking the motion of other stars around the centre of the Milky way. And they could see, it was all putting a point where there was no light coming from it. It was discovered that was a black hole.

And I would assume Dan that a lot of the reason why this award is happening this year has something to do with the EHT image of a supermassive black hole that was taken last year, which I guess is really quite direct evidence of black holes.

Dan: [00:02:46] Yeah. I mean I think that black holes are definitely one of the more exciting branches of physics. There’s a lot happening at the moment and there’s a lot to be discovered.

I’m not sure if it was related to the EHT or not, but that observation that you’re talking about, it’s like the coolest gift ever. Because it’s like, 20 or 30 years now of observations of these stars going around the black hole. We’ll definitely stick that on the website, but you know, you can see these little black stars going “whoop, whoop” around this object, which isn’t there.

Jacinta: [00:03:17] Well, we actually plan on doing an episode on black holes related to the Nobel prizes in the future. So I guess we’ll leave the gift for that episode.

Dan: [00:03:24] Okay. We’ll keep you waiting.

Jacinta: [00:03:27] But anyway, the prizes were awarded a couple of weeks ago. And in the last week we’ve also been incredibly busy.

Primarily you Dan, with the 200th anniversary celebrations of the SAAO, the South African Astronomical Observatory.

Dan: [00:03:41] Yeah. So Tuesday, 20th October saw the 200 year anniversary and we had the site unveiled officially as a national heritage site, which is a very, very big deal, which was very stressful.

I had some issues with the live stream, but we don’t talk about those. And then we had a symposium which ran for the remainder of the week from Tuesday to through to Friday, which was really, really cool. I think we had all sorts of talks and, you know, we’ll send you the link where you can go watch all of the talks that were online.

It was a virtual symposium, so everything has been recorded and made available online. And we had talks ranging from obviously the history of the observatory, the history of astronomy in South Africa, socio economic impacts of astronomy, the cultural aspects of astronomy, and then the science. So current science, exciting science and things to come in the future.

So it was a whole range of all of astronomy in South Africa. The symposium was themed to be on 200 years of astronomy, which I really quite liked because it kind of, beyond covers all sorts of things. We can look beyond 200 years ago, we can look beyond 200 years to the future, and then we can look beyond astronomy too.

So yeah, I think it went really well. We got a lot of positive feedback and a lot of interactions. We had almost 500 people, I think in the end, that’s like very cool. And I mean the virtual symposium thing, obviously we didn’t want to do it that way initially, but it meant that we had people joining from all over the world.

We got high profile speakers from all over the world who otherwise probably wouldn’t have travelled. So it, it really did. Yeah, I think it set the tone for how we can do virtual conferences in the future.

Jacinta: [00:05:26] Yeah. I mean, Dan, honestly, for you and your team, Congratulations! I was absolutely blown away by the, the standard that was set.

I mean the speed of the pivot to virtual conferencing was incredible. And you’ll set up an entire professional TV studio right here at the SAAO. As you know, I was chairing one of the sessions with yourself and then also with another person. And I was expecting it to be in ZOOM, just sitting together in front of a computer, a laptop, looking into the camera on the laptop and talking together.

But no! It was a full ON TV studio. We had a set manager giving us the countdown to when we go to go live, we had headpieces. And what do you call these?

Dan: [00:06:10] The little Madonna Microphone. I think Madonna was the first to do that.

Jacinta: [00:06:16] Like the earpiece where you can hear people like telling you instructions through that, it was super cool and yeah, very, very professionally done.

Very speaking span. And yeah, again, I was also really impressed by the variety of talks. And there was a lot on history, which I wasn’t actually expecting, but I learnt a lot from that. I guess it’s hard to conceptualize really how long 200 years is, and how much the world has changed and how much South Africa has changed in that time. So that was, that was really quite fascinating.

Dan: [00:06:49] And astronomy, I mean, how much astronomy is changing.

Jacinta: [00:06:51] That is just unbelievable how much it’s changed in 200 years! We actually heard from the president of the Royal Astronomical Society in England. She was able to join, as you said, because of the virtual nature of the conference and the Royal Astronomical Society also celebrating their bicentenary this year.

So 200 years of the SAAO here, and 200 years of the society they’re in, in England. And it’s, it’s an enormous history with incredible growth.

Coming back to science, another thing that’s happened in the last week or two. Dan it’s been quite a, quite a busy few weeks. Is that a special astronomy edition of the National Research Foundations, “Science Matters” magazine was published and that was actually edited by you and I, and had a lot of contributions from many research astronomers here in South Africa. And I think that gave a really nice overview of the huge variety of astronomy coming out of South Africa here, which obviously we’re trying to promote through this podcast and to share all that knowledge, but even so, even though we’re quite plugged into that, I was still blown away by the huge variety.

I mean, there’s things like: everything from the larger scales of cosmology simulating the entire universe; studying these things called the baryonic acoustic oscillations, which are basically the largest scales in the entire universe. Down to studying galaxies, galaxy evolution with the MeerKAT telescope, with SALT; down to studying stars that are releasing huge amounts of X-rays; down to even here on the Earth and as you said, the socio-economic impact of astronomy, which was phenomenal. The huge breadth and the range of the whole,

Dan: [00:08:33] Yeah. I mean, we say it over and over again,

Jacinta: [00:08:36] It sounded a bit like a broken record, I guess, but it’s true.

Dan: [00:08:39] But the astronomy in South Africa, we’re quite passionate about it.

Jacinta: [00:08:43] As we can may be hear. So also talking about sharing all of this with the public and the socio-economic impact, there was also this virtual festival of astronomy alongside the symposium.

Dan: [00:08:56] Yes, that was pretty cool too. So, obviously trying to reach the public as much as possible. We wanted to have an astro fest where we could do stargazing and everything, but we couldn’t do that.

So we pivoted to virtual and we had talks from various people. We had the people representing NASA and others, and again, the advantage of being able to get people from all over the world to contribute. So we had various talks, we had some workshops on how to engage in astronomy to communicate astronomy.

We had a nice webinar on science communication, and then we had virtual staff party on the Friday night.

Jacinta: [00:09:31] How did that go? And what was it? how was the music?

Dan: [00:09:35] It was pretty cool. I mean, I don’t know, like I love the DJ. So master KG, who some people may know, he’s very popular at the moment here in South Africa. He’s had one major hit and everyone’s dancing to it, including myself on Friday, but anyway, he kind of started rough and he sort of eased you into a set.

So we had going on the TV and it’s kind of cool, funky music. And then, we interspliced that with some virtual stargazing. So we had a telescope set up, it just an amateur telescope, 16 inch, with a camera attached to it. We slewed it around and pointed at various objects. So, you know, while the music was playing, we had text on the screen as to what you were looking at.

And people got an opportunity to look at some of these things, as you would see them through an outreach telescope, rather than through one of our large telescopes who actually don’t make very good images at all. They are directed at science. They didn’t really doing spectroscopy or something similar. They’re not making these pretty images.

Jacinta: [00:10:35] But sometimes they are

Dan: [00:10:37] Some of them do. Looking at it as you would see it if you went on a stargazing evening or visited us here. So it was pretty cool. I enjoyed it and we got some good feedback. I think people really enjoyed all of those events and it was a nice way of interacting.

Jacinta: [00:10:53] Nice. Hopefully some of our listeners are also able to participate in that, but even if you miss that, there’s still a chance to participate in the celebrations with. There’s a planetarium show I believe.

Dan: [00:11:05] Yeah. So for my sons, I was doing another thing too. So on Monday 19th, we had the premier of a new planetarium show focusing on South African astronomy.

So it’s a project that we’ve been working on for a couple of years now, along with Sally Macfarlane from UCT. And yeah, we’ve recorded a full length. So that’s 24 minute planetarium show, full dome experience. We incorporate some indigenous knowledge, the history of astronomy in the country at the various exciting locations and telescopes.

We’ve got shots from MeerKAT and drone footage from Sutherland, which has just spectacular.

Jacinta: [00:11:41] I haven’t seen it yet, but I can’t wait.

Dan: [00:11:43] It’s the coolest thing flying over Sutherland. And seeing all those telescopes, it’s spectacular. So yeah, I mean, and then we give an introduction to multi wavelength, astronomy, then multi- messenger astronomy, which is a lot of what we’re doing here in South Africa at the moment.

So it went really well. It was well received and it’ll be in a planetarium near you. Hopefully soon.

Jacinta: [00:12:02] Right, so this is called “Rising Star”. And it’s currently in the Iziko planetarium here in Cape town, and you’ve made it free for planetariums all around the world to, to release, right?

Dan: [00:12:12]  Yeah. So it’s freely available. We have distributed it already to Bloemfontein and to the Naval Hill planetarium and the planetarium in Sutherland. There’s over 4,000 planetaria around the world and it’s freely available to all of them.

Jacinta: [00:12:26] Great. So if you run a planetarium and you want the show, get in touch! Well, can we actually play a little snippet of the planetarium show?

Dan: [00:12:34] Yeah, sure. I mean, we can play the voiceover and we do have a trailer, so we’ll post the trailer on the,

Jacinta: [00:12:43] On the website. Alright. So we’re going to play a little bit of the audio now, but for the full visual effects, well, go to Sydney planetarium show, but you can also head to our website for the trailer.

[Trailer Audio]

Trailer: [00:13:11]  Humans have always looked up to the night sky and wondered at the repeating patterns of the celestial bodies. What are they? Where are they from? and what is their connection to us? To answer these questions? We created stories.

A San legend tells the story of the origins of our galaxy, the Milky way. A young woman waits for the hunters to return at the end of the day. As it grows dark, she throws ash from the fire into the night sky.This becomes the Milky Way and guides the Hunter safely home after dark.

Everything we know from the Universe starts from studying the light emitted or reflected by objects in space. By detecting and analysing light from an object in space, astronomers can learn about its distance, motion, temperature, density, and chemical composition.

Initially, astronomers detected only one type of light, visible light. The type we see with our eyes, which is actually a spectrum of wavelengths that make up the colours of the rainbow.

Light travels very fast. The speed of light is about 300,000 kilometres per second. This means that the light from the Sun, which is 150 million kilometres away takes just over eight minutes to get to us on Earth.

So when we look at the sun, we were actually seeing it as it was about eight minutes ago.

We are looking back in time. Most of objects in the Universe are even further away, and light from the most distant galaxies can take billions of years to reach us.

[Trailer ends]

Jacinta: [00:16:10] Cool. I can’t wait to see it. So I haven’t seen the show yet, but I’m very, very excited. Okay, so speaking of planetarium shows and outreach to the public and stargazing. Today, we’re going to be talking to Susan Murabana Owen, and Chu Owen, who run The Travelling Telescope program in Kenya, as we said at the start of the episode.

Chu and Susan kind of do “everything”! They have so many projects going on. They’ve got a program to take a telescope around, to do school visits in Kenya, also astrotourism. They’ve even built an entire planetarium out of bamboo! So I managed to chat with Sue and Owen when they visited Cape Town a little while ago, for the African Astronomical Society meeting, where I believe she was appointed to the role of a, I think it was something to do with planetarium coordinator for the committee. I can’t remember the exact role. But she also has a whole bunch of other roles. She’s the founding president of the African Planetarium Association and the national coordinator of Astronomy Without Borders and Universal Awareness, etc.

So Chu and Susan do a whole range of things.

Dan: [00:17:24] Very, very busy people and very passionate people, which is wonderful. I think that there’s various levels in which you can participate in outreach and science engagement. And it’s just wonderful to hear people like Sue and Chu, who really just get down on the ground, feet on the ground, reaching people and trying on the stars. And it’s fantastic.

Jacinta: [00:17:43] So shall we hear from them?

Dan: [00:17:44] Absolutely!


Jacinta: [00:17:52] With us now is Chu Owen and Susan Murabana Owen. Welcome to the studio, can you just tell us a bit about who you are and where you’re from and what you do?

Susan: [00:18:04] My name is Susan Murabana. I’m from Kenya and I’m the co-founder of The Travelling Telescope.

Chu: [00:18:10] My name is Chu Owen, originally from England. I now also am in Kenya.

Jacinta: [00:18:15] Great, Susan and Chu, you mentioned that you are working on something called The Travelling Telescope. Can you tell us more about what that is?

Susan: [00:18:22] So The Travelling Telescope is a social business as we like to call it. We work with schools, providing education tools to support the teachers and to get the kids excited, but we also work with the tourism sector.

What we do is we charge schools that can afford, international schools and private schools to get our services. We have a big telescope. We have a mobile planetarium. We’re just in the process of setting up permanent planetarium in Nairobi. It’s going to be called the Nairobi planetarium.

And we have other tools, one in partnership with Airbus foundation, which is a robotics program that we take around to schools. So one of the key things we’re very excited about is working with young people, but we also want to engage the wider Kenyan and African audience. Through to I presume Kenya has unpolluted dark skies.

They are really good and I would like to use that to showcase Kenya in Africa, in terms of astronomy.

Chu: [00:19:20] We’ve got to, like Susie said, we’ve got two main sides to what we do, which is the educational side and then the tourism side. But within those there’s other areas as well. So like within the schools, within the international schools, as Susie said, we’d do charge.

And then when we can, we get funding to do schools that don’t necessarily have access to the funding, but we don’t want to miss them out if possible. So we do look for funding to get to the less served schools. And then even within the tourism side, there’s like, you know, more local tourism, like people from Kenya, from Nairobi who wants to, you know, learn more about the sky.

And then of course, international tourists. And that tends to be like the lodges and the more sort of, you know, the higher end things. So within both of those areas, we’ve got different sort of levels, which we try to engage with.

Susan: [00:20:00] Part of the reason we charge is obviously to be sustainable and to help and, you know, provide opportunities for young Kenyan graduates in astronomy or other science fields to work with us and make something from what they are doing. But also really it’s to get the buy-in from the Kenyan or African community.

So one of the things we do is then “Nairobi Star Party”, where we charge a minimal fee for families to come, and journalists and all different people who pay to look through the telescope have to go into the planetarium. And for us, we feel by their, the community is paying, it means the value of what we do and are willing to, you know, use a bit of their money to enjoy.

So having that means that it’s going to be sustainable, not necessarily financially, but also in terms of interest from the community or the people.

Chu: [00:20:53] Obviously our tools are the main focus of what we do, which is the telescope and the planetarium. And then we have this robotics kits and some other hands-on activities, including virtual reality headsets.

But we are like the guides. We are like the safari guides for the astronomy world. So we know the sky pretty well, and we observed in, you know, how objects form and what happens through the evolution of different things in the sky. And so, you know, for example, on a night time thing with the telescope, we have our very powerful laser pointers. While we’re highlighting certain objects and we have microphones, but it’s an interactive thing. So it’s presenter led, but with the astronomy guides.

Susan: [00:21:29] So through what we do, we have obviously received a lot of attention and appreciation, especially locally from where we are. So obviously we’re talking about the fact that you’re trying to do it as a business, but with social impact.

And one of the things you do is obviously try to bring in the local communities that are very connected to the sky. To connect with the sky the traditional stories they have, because this story is quickly getting lost because they’re not asking or telling them. And if you go to a community that has, you know, all this wildlife and has all these two areas and you get the locals to talk about the sky, they feel that they’re part of that project that you’re bringing into the community.

Jacinta: [00:22:13] Gosh, you do so much! I’m almost speechless and not sure what else to ask. That’s just so fantastic. I guess. Why astronomy? Why did you choose astronomy as a platform?

Chu: [00:22:25] So for me, I got into astronomy sort of later. My primary world was the film world. And I got into that through arts and photography and music.

In fact, at school, the sciences were a complete mystery to me and I can’t blame my teachers for that, but it’s like, it just wasn’t appealing to me and I didn’t pay any attention to it in school. So I didn’t pursue that kind of area, but sort of getting more interested in it when I was, you know, in my twenties I suppose. I was like, why did nobody come and sort of share the wonder of science, particularly astronomy with me at school?

Cause that just never happened. Nobody there never had like an engaging thing with about science, but for me, seeing Saturn in a telescope was just mind blowing. And I was like, why had nobody during all of those years of education that I had at school? Why did nobody ever say that there’s this, there’s all these things up there, which are visible to you and even in a small telescope, which you can’t help, but wonder at, and I want to ask more questions about.

Susan: [00:23:23] I think for me, it was also, you remember the young girl us to find the Plough in the sky in school. And I struggled seeing it. And when my classmates went back to school and reported what they had seen. I didn’t see it. And now, you know, having that sky and learning about it and telling people about it, that is such a fulfilment. But also knowing that there could be young boys and girls like me struggling to see the sky and struggling to like science, gives me that drive to do it.

Obviously, knowing that astronomy is an intriguing science, it sparks curiosity. And the fact that we are a dark continent, so why not make use of that beautiful sky and shade to the rest of the world? The other thing that stands out for me in astronomy is the fact that when we look at a satellite image of the Earth, that all borders, we all belong to this planet and trying to use that to get our leaders to speak together.

And everyone just loving our planet and taking care of it is one of the things that makes me very excited about what we do. So I think those are the two things that led to that. And obviously right now, there’s a lot of really cool things happening in the continent in astronomy. And looking back at when I started in outreach in astronomy and now, it’s just an exciting time in Africa to be doing what we’re doing.

And that’s also something that excites me.

Jacinta: [00:24:53] Yeah, absolutely. I really agree with you about how we’re all united under one sky. And that, that is why astronomy can cross all borders and all cultures and all divides because we’re all under the same sky. Now I have to admit that as a professional radio astronomer, I don’t know anything about anything that you can see with your eyes in the sky.

So I have a question. The Plough is that the same as the Big Dipper?

Chu: [00:25:17] Yes.

Jacinta: [00: 25:18] Okay.

Chu: [00: 25:20] It’s got four names, the Big Dipper, the Ursa Major, the Plough and the Great Bear.  Probably others in other languages as well, of course.

Jacinta: [00: 25:29]  So the people who are familiar with the night sky going to laugh at me a little bit with these questions, but I imagine so, so you spend most of your time in Kenya, is that right?

Susan: [00: 25:38] Yeah, we do spend most of our time in Kenya. We have been to Tanzania with The Travelling Telescope a few times. And we really want to travel across the rest of Africa with The Travelling Telescope. I think it’s a beautiful name to talk about exactly what we do and we’ve had a few people across the continent who asked for us to visit. So it’s also the fact that you travel when you travel to different parts of the world and look up in the sky, there’s something unique and different. And with the culture and the people, it just has a way of humbling news. So I think we’d like to, you know, explore the idea of traveling to more countries across Africa, with our model and sharing with them what we have, and also getting to learn about what’s happening.

Jacinta: [00:26:26] I imagine the skies in Kenya must be stunning.

Chu: [00:26:30] Well, one really cool thing about Kenya is that it’s on the equator, which means that you see both hemispheres of the skies as an astronomer.

Jacinta: [00:26:37] Northern and Southern.

Chu: [00:26:39] So you almost see every star in the sky through the year. That’s not true of anywhere, you know, more than 23 degrees North or South of the equator.

So like here, we were looking at the sky last night, I was like, Oh my goodness!, “me, that’s the, that’s the Southern cross really high up in the sky”. And so Susie mentioned earlier, seeing the Great Bear, the Big Dipper who was supposed to be there because her books had told her that it’s a circumpolar constellation.

Of course, she’s looking from the equator. So it’s not, there’s no circumpolar constellation at the equator because the sky rotates around pretty much the horizons. But also Kenya has obviously a lack of development you could argue in some ways, but that has a beneficial effect on the views of the night sky.

So you have very, very large dark sky areas. One of the biggest parks, Safari parks and wildlife parks is Tsavo. And we’re actually in the process of looking to try to get that turned into a dark sky reserve and with the international dark sky association. And hopefully, maybe even more, if we can get one, we could hopefully get another. Also one of the brilliant things about Kenyan skies or being on the equator is that the ecliptic is right above your head.

So you’re looking through the least amount of atmosphere at any of the planets or the moon, or whatever happens to be, you know, transiting along the ecliptic, including the constellation of the Zodiac. So there’s, there’s loads of reasons why specifically where we are is brilliant. Not that other places aren’t, but it’s just, we’re very lucky with our skies plus the dry climate, which generally is, is also really good to see, you know, any objects in the telescope or with your naked eyes.

Susan: [00:28:07] Yeah. And I don’t think many Kenyans actually know that uniqueness of where we are in terms of the sky.

Jacinta: [00:28:17] Yeah, that’s incredible. So if any of our listeners want to come and see one of your shows, see The Travelling Telescope, how can they find you?

Susan: [00:28:25] We are on Twitter, you can check us up on Twitter @TravelTelescope.

We are on Instagram @thetravellingtelescope, Facebook: The Travelling Telescope, and we have our website info at travellingtelescope.co.uk. So please get in touch with us. And we offer star Safaris and we have the big five in the sky, and we have so much to give you a few. If you want to come and see it.

Jacinta: [00:28:53] So I want to come on Safari and see the big five in the sky. Definitely. Just to finish up. Are there any other messages you’d like our listeners to hear about?

Chu: [00:29:03] Yeah, definitely. We mentioned earlier about how the astronauts on the Apollo mission, who were the first ones to see the Earth rising above the surface of the moon that they’re credited with being the first environmentalist.

And we’ve been very lucky to meet some astronauts in the past few years. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space. She’s really cool.

Jacinta: [00:29:23] I am so jealous!

Susan: [00: 29:24] We also met Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space. Yeah. And I met Scott Kelly! who went to space for one year. So I was very excited about it, so yes, and they know of what we’re doing.

We’ve had very direct interaction and communication with them,

Chu: [00:29:41] But what I was  going to say is, through the astronauts, your perspective can change because there’s only about 600 of them who have ever seen the Earth from space. And they all say pretty much the ones we’ve met. They say the same thing about how you notice that for a start, there’s no borders from space. We are all one on this planet and we all breathe the same air, you know, the very thin atmosphere, which if you compare the Earth to an onion, then the, the atmosphere is like the skin is that thin. So obviously, you know, what happens in one area will eventually affect other areas, out on the ocean is the same as well.

But strangely through looking up, we’ve we find ourselves looking at our own planet differently. So it kind of gives you new eyes on the Earth, which is nothing you’d expected to be doing, using a telescope.

Susan: [00:30:23] So, one other thing I’d like to say is that obviously we do chase the sky and try to share that with people.

But we have mentioned our planetarium. And there’s a meeting happening in two days to set up an African affiliates for the international planetarium society. These are excellent tools to use, to show the sky and to discuss things like the environment and biodiversity and all these things.

And so we’re very excited that that is happening. And also just very excited to know that there’s a lot of collaboration and support from big organizations like the United nations, environment program to push for the message of climate change. Which is real and to see what scientists are doing, using their data, to get to talk to important decision makers about climate change and how we can change that and protect our planet.

Chu: [00:31:17] But it’s also that through science, it’s really the only way that sustainability can happen. How do we purify water? How do we desalinate ocean? If we’d need to do that for drinking water, how do you get energy? Not using fossil fuels? You know, it’s all science! You looked at solar panels, they were popularized and developed really for the space industry, where there is no access to oil in flying around the Earth.

You need to use this, the power of the sun. So obviously solar panels are a good example of direct effect on Earth. X-ray technology. You know, x-rays were discovered by astronomers as well, and now we all use them when we break up arm or whatever. So yeah, there’s loads of examples where we talk about how science and an interesting science can actually directly have an effect on well-being of humans on Earth.

Susan: [00:32:00] And if there’s any young African listeners, especially the ones who are still in school. If there are any of them out that can take the message home of how important science is in our everyday life and reach out to organization science centres and learn more about science in a fun way.

Chu: [00:32:20] One more thing, our planetarium were making out of bamboo!

Jacinta: [00:32:26] Wait, what?

Chu: [00: 32:28] So, it could be a geodesic dome, which is made of bamboo. When we’ve been in the process of designing this hexagonal hub thing, which is also made of bamboo so that these, anyway, I have to show you pictures of it. But they are in the process of doing that and possibly even making a telescope out of bamboo as well, because bamboo is a wonderful material.

That’s just super quick to grow and a great for the soil. Just sort of put that in.


Jacinta: [00: 32:48] Maybe we can put a picture of it on our website. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for speaking with us today. This has been absolutely fantastic and the best of luck with everything and we’re all supporting you. We’re all behind you.

Chu: [00:33:01] Thank you so much. Yeah, we look forward to you coming up to Kenya or even us coming down to South Africa with our program.

Susan: [00:33:07] Yeah. Thank you very much.

Jacinta: [00:33:08] Yeah. It’s a deal!


Dan: [00:33:10] Awesome. We need to send them rising star.

Jacinta: [00:33:24] Yeah, definitely. Of course!

Dan: [00:33:26] We will post a picture of the planetarium. You know, obviously all the work they’re doing is fantastic and The Travelling Telescope, the planetarium is very exciting and novel. It’s a bamboo frame with a piece of canvas over the top. That’s spectacular.

Jacinta: [00:33:39] Brilliant! Yeah. So they’ve actually, between us chatting and now, they’ve actually finished the planetarium and it’s off and running.

Dan: [00:33:45] Yeah. I mean, it looks brilliant and that sort of, I don’t know, initiative is just incredible.

Jacinta: [00:33:50] Yeah, next level. I really liked their message about, it’s similar to what we heard from Vanessa McBride in episode 26, about us all being under one sky and that there’s no borders if you look down on the earth from space. Like if you look at a map, of the world or a globe, it’s still delineated into countries, but actually that’s not what the world looks like. There aren’t any actual physical borders. And so using astronomy as a message to bring everybody together, also using it as a hook to spark interest in students, in the public, to get buy-in from society and also to use as a perspective and tool for environmental protection.

I mean, these are all of the ways that astronomy can really actually help society because it’s, it seems like an intangible thing, but actually it can have a really real  impact.

Dan: [00:34:41] We’ve spoken a lot about it before. I mean, I think that astronomy has this very, very special role and it’s very, very powerful.

This is just another example of it. It’s a great way to get people some perspective on what’s actually important and

Jacinta: [00:35:00] Exactly. We saw it a lot during the conference last week, the image of the pale blue dot and also the EHT image and how popular they’ve become in the entire world. Like what, 4 billion people or something have seen the EHT image now?

Because it gives us some humility, some modesty, some perspective on ourselves. It also reminded me listening to Susan and Chu about a talk that was given last week by Amidou Sorgho about Astros day. So he’s working with the OAD, the Office of Astronomy for Development, and he was researching a program that I think has been implemented in the Himalayas.

Called Astros days where you have Astro tourism, just like Susan and Chu were talking about. Where people come to admire the pristine night skies of the area. But there were found that there was very little cultural interaction between the visitors and the local people and that this was missing out an entire aspect of the whole thing.

And so, they’ve set up like an astronomy tourist homestays situation called Astro stays, where the visitors come and stay in the homes of the local people. And then there’s an interaction and a cultural exchange, and it seems to enrich the whole process. And perhaps that’d be, that might be something that would be interesting to also apply in Kenya and South Africa.

Dan: [00:36:18] Yeah. And the host also received some training, right? Like in terms of, stargazing, which is like, it’s great! It’s a full experience and you can sort of pass on some real benefits, tangible benefits to the communities, rather than them going to a big hotel or something.

Jacinta: [00:36:37] Right. While the community are involved, it’s there, it’s ownership.

Sue also mentioned incorporating local and traditional stories of the night sky when she’s discussing the sky with her visitors. And we were actually preparing another episode about this based in South Africa for next steps.

Dan: [00:36:58] Yeah. I had a wonderful interview and we will talk about that more next week.

Jacinta: [00:37:01] Yeah. So stay tuned for that one that’s coming up next. I think we’ll end off here today and we’ll leave the rest for the next episode.

Dan: [00:37:08] Thanks very much for listening and we hope you’ll join us again. On the next episode of The Cosmic Savannah,

Jacinta: [00:37:14] You can visit our website, thecosmicsavannah.com, where we’ll have the transcript, links and other stuff related to today’s episode.

You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @cosmicsavannah. That’s Savannah, spelled S-A-V-A-N-N-A-H.

Dan: [00:37:30] Special thanks today to Susan Murabana Owen and Chu Owen for speaking with us.

Jacinta: [00:37:34] Thanks to Sumari Hattingh for social media and transcription assistance and Andy Firth for show note preparation. Also to Mark Allnut for music production, Janus Brink and Michal Lyczek for photography and Lana Ceraj for graphic design.

Dan: [00:37:47] We gratefully acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation, the South African Astronomical Observatory and the University of Cape Town Astronomy Department to help keep 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.

Dan: [00:38:06] And we’ll speak to you next time on the cosmic Savannah.

[Behind the scene]

Jacinta: [00:38:18] I actually met a couple of astronauts myself, including Buzz Aldrin. Second person on the moon! But, so I had in my head prepared this whole spiel that I was going to say to him when I met him, “I used the telescope that picked up the signals of you walking on the moon and all of this things”, but what came out?

I just saw him, I got so star-struck. Like, I didn’t think that that was a real thing, but it really is! I saw him, I got so star-struck and I just said, “Ummm, I study galaxies” and he was like, okay. But he was very kind and very nice.

Chu: [00:38:58] How appropriate is it that astronomers getting star-struck!?

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


Transcribed by Lynette Delhaize

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] We introduce you to the people involved, technology we use, the exciting work we do and fascinating discoveries we make.

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

Hello, welcome to episode 18.

Dan: [00:00:37] Welcome and apologies for my cold

Jacinta: [00:00:40] sounding a little nasally there, Dan.

Dan: [00:00:42] Sorry about that.

Jacinta: [00:00:44] So what are we talking about today?

Dan: [00:00:47] So today we’re talking about African skies. Yeah. In the truest sense, we are talking,

Jacinta: [00:00:51] we’re leaving South Africa,

Dan: [00:00:52] leaving South Africa, going into Africa, talking about Kenya and Nigeria and some of the exciting things happening there. How people are utilizing our African dark skies,  for good, for education, for economic gain, and basically capitalizing on this advantage we have. In South Africa, we have this act, The Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act, which kind of covers the SKA and Mia Kat.

I think that’s something which is true in most of Africa. We are at a real advantage when it comes to having nice, clean, dark skies.  I think that’s something that we should really work on and use to our advantage.

Jacinta: [00:01:41] Yeah, exactly. I think the African continent has a lot of negative connotations even to the people themselves sometimes but we’re going to hear from two people today who treat it as an asset with joy and are trying to get more people to fall in love with Africa’s dark skies. As you said, to use it to help boost the economy. 

Dan: [00:02:08] I think more than that in Africa, if you have a relationship with the stars, and a lot of people live rural, they see the stars much better than people who live in big cities or in Europe and the States. Where if you’re lucky, you can see a couple of hundred stars on a dark night. Whereas in the dark places, you can see thousands, thousands, and thousands of stars, the Milky way and in the Southern hemisphere, you can see the Magellanic clouds. So people have this ongoing relationship with the skies through their own understanding. And we’ll talk a little bit about that too, but also, even today, just having that fascination and interest in the stars.

Jacinta: [00:02:52] I think everybody feels some sort of connection with the stars, with the night sky certainly if you’ve grown up seeing it. Nowadays, a lot of us haven’t, you know, if we’ve grown up in cities.

Dan: [00:03:02] Which is very sad. Yeah and something we’re trying to fix.

Jacinta: [00:03:04] Okay. So today we’re going to be speaking to Carringtone Kinyanjui , who is a master student at the University of Nairobi studying theoretical astrophysics and also from Olayinka Fagbemiro who works at the Nigerian space agency and with The Astronomers without Borders. And from both of those, we’re going to hear about amazing initiatives to use astronomy and the space industry and the night sky to inspire a nation and a continent.

Dan: [00:03:34] And you caught up with them both. So I look forward to hearing it.

Jacinta: [00:03:37] Yeah. So I caught up with Carringtone and  Olayinka at this year’s Astronomy in Africa conference earlier on in the year when they were visiting Cape town.

And I got to hear their incredible stories. So Carringtone as I said, is a student in Nairobi, in Kenya, and he is also involved in a project called Sayari, which is an astronomy education and Astro-tourism campaign to get the Safari lodges, the game lodges, to also have a component for the tourists about Astro-tourism.

So looking up at the night sky learning ethno- astronomy so the stories of the local people, and sort of building a better connection with the sky and generating some more income. So he’s involved with training speakers and sort of campaigning the lodgers and these sorts of things. So let’s hear from Carringtone.

We’re now talking to Carringtone Kinyanjui. Welcome Carringtone.

Carringtone: [00:04:44] Thank you for having me, Jacinta. It’s a pleasure.

Jacinta: [00:04:47] Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Carringtone: [00:04:50]  I can tell a lot. Okay, good.I’m a student. My name is Carringtone Kinyanjui. I’m a student at the University of Nairobi back in Kenya.  I’m also with this Sayari Astronomy Outreach and Astro-Tourism group.

 We are basically a bunch of students who work around Kenya. Sayari is Swahili for the planet. Planet is Greek for wanderer. We wander about in Kenya telling astronomical stories, learning astronomical stories from the local community and trying to create a sustainable outreach and a strong tourism business model in Kenya.

So, yeah, that’s what we do.

Jacinta: [00:05:35] So wonderful.  I have so many questions. I’m not even sure where to start. So now you obviously have a big interest in astronomy and you are doing  a degree in astronomy. Yes?

Carringtone: [00:05:48] Yeah.

Jacinta: [00:05:48] Right. Let’s just start there. What did, what got you interested in that and  what are you working on at the moment?

Carringtone: [00:05:54] So, funny story. It’s a novel that got me interested in astronomy. It was Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Oh, really? Yeah. I’m a novel person of stele novel person. So I read it and discovered this part of physics that is not taught in secondary schools in Kenya. So physics is this boring thing that tells you how doors move. I learnt about particles, antiparticles, antimatter, colliders, Big Bang, and I was wondering, is this really real? So I went to check it out in the library and found, wow. This is real stuff. And that’s where I started, back in high school, and got interested in astronomy. I then applied to my undergraduate, and there I was accepted to study astronomy at the University of Nairobi.

So that’s my origin story, if you will. Yeah,

Jacinta: [00:06:51] I think that’s probably the best origin story I’ve ever heard.

Carringtone: [00:06:54] Thank you. Thank you. Jacinta.

Jacinta: [00:06:57] So you went to university and then what are you doing with that now?

Carringtone: [00:07:00] So after that I graduated and I then enrolled back for masters in theoretical astrophysics at the university of Nairobi. After that we were selected with a group of other students from engineering, geospatial engineering, electrical, physics related fields. We were selected by the project called Development of Africa with radio astronomy.  So they told us to put in a proposal of a project that we would like to do in our country.

So we had a discussion and voted on it, and one of us proposed that we should try to find a sustainable business-like project in the country. We settled on astro-tourism, taking into account that Africa has such beautiful dark skies. It’s amazing. Those Africans living in the city try going to the rural areas at least once a month.

You will see what I’m talking about. So we decided to sell that as a product of Africa through astro- tourism. So it would entail training guides and all this stuff. Yeah. I guess we’ll get into that later. Yeah.

Jacinta: [00:08:19] Let’s jump straight into it now. Why not? Okay. So you’re running a project called Sayari, so tell us more about that.

Carringtone: [00:08:26] So sayari is Swaheli for planets. The planet is Greek for Wanderer. So that’s what we do. We wander about the country. So we move the project specifically, we do outreach, and we also work on astro-tourism. So the idea is to get game parks specifically lodges in game parks because that’s the arrangement back in Kenya to get interested and to invest in astronomy. Maybe buy a telescope, maybe buy a pair of binoculars or something. A laser pointer even, and then have that as part of their products. So they not only sell game drives, but also sell the night sky to the tourists and maybe charge a fee for each and maybe employ someone to do that, a local with local knowledge. Another part of it, a strong part of it is what we call ethno-astronomy. We know that Africans had their own stories of the night sky because they moved around using the night sky as a compass. So we want to know those stories and tourists who come to Kenya want to know those stories.

So I think it is interesting to also sell that, as part of their products of Africa. We are working to try to get dark sky certification for our local game parks. So we’ve focused on one game park called the Mara – the Masai Mara. I’m sure it’s famous. So the idea is to try and convince them to preserve the night sky and sell that as a product.

Jacinta: [00:10:05] So for some of our international listeners who might not be familiar so game parks are like Safari parks, right, where you can pay to go in and it’s a reserve for wild animals.

Carringtone: [00:10:18] Yes, exactly. Exactly that. So basically what happens is that the government first isolates areas with wild animals and forests and water views. Then they sub-lets these to private companies. At least in the Kenyan arrangement they sub-lets these to private companies who then use it as a product and pay the government some bit of money, either the government or the local government. Yeah. So that’s the arrangement,

Jacinta: [00:10:48] Right? So this is a sustainable source of income for Kenya.

Tourism is a big part of the economy. And so, you know obviously, Kenya has some of the most incredible Safari reserves in the world with just vast areas, so many animals, wild animals, just living in nature. And so of course people want to come and see this, and so why not at the same time,

Carringtone: [00:11:13] look up.

Jacinta: [00:11:14] Look up.

Carringtone: [00:11:14] Exactly. Just look up and see the beauty of it. Yeah. Most tourists to Kenya are Europeans or Americans or Australians. So most of their night sky is gone to them because of the huge cities. You think about New York, California. Think about Paris and London. So the night sky is gone for them. For this reason it will be interesting to have them look up occasionally and maybe hear the stories of other people. So most astronomy stories are by the Greeks because the Greeks wrote it down. So the Greeks tell their stories. So we would also like to document our stories and tell them to tourists. That’s part of it. Yeah.

Jacinta: [00:12:05] Do you have an example of any of these stories that you might give us a sneak preview of?

Carringtone: [00:12:09] Yeah, so the Samburu have an interesting story about what we call the Milky way galaxy. It comes from the Greek. Yeah. So in the Samburu name for it is [missing text] Nkai That is the belt of God.

So to them that was part of the clothes of God, if you will have it that way. So that’s interesting. They also have a specific name for the Orion belt. To them it’s a village. It’s a village with cows coming out. The three stars of the Orion belt. So they have their own way of looking at things and they have their own stories which we found very interesting.

Jacinta: [00:12:55] Wow, that’s amazing. It’s so fascinating to hear how the people of different cultures have come up with completely different stories and naming for the stars  and how that was a really important part of their lives.

Carringtone: [00:13:10] Yeah. You see Jacinta, you didn’t know that story. You only knew of the Greeks. Do you know any of your local stories? 

Jacinta: [00:13:18] Well I’m probably not the best person to tell the story, but, yes, I know that  the first people of Australia, the indigenous Aboriginal people, they have some various stories as well about, the night sky and one of them, when you look at the Milky way I believe the Aboriginal people focus less on the stars, what you could see with light, but actually looked at the dark patches. Yeah. And there’s like a dust lane going through the center of the Milky way, and they think that this looks like an EMU. So this was the big EMU in the sky and indeed, when you see it and you trace out the pattern, it does look like an EMU, which is of course, is a big flightless bird in Australia.

Carringtone: [00:14:01] Yeah. Yeah. So that’s interesting. So the point is to get all these stories written down and at least maybe for the locals of any community, any country, to at least know their own stories. So we are trying to do a lot of that in Kenya. We think that is important, maybe not paying but it is important.

Jacinta: [00:14:23] And so when will this project start?

Carringtone: [00:14:26] So it actually started last year, around September. That’s when we got our approval for funding. We’ve got the telescope sent and then we went to the game parks and started training the guides. We wanted them to have some basic knowledge of astronomy so that they can talk competently with the tourists.

So we trained them for a week and we went back, followed up, in February. So we are currently in talks with them. We want to formalize a formal contract because this is a private business agreement to have a formal contract where we lease the telescope to them and then we let them use it as a product with the tourists and with some form of income. We are still in discussions with them. We haven’t finalized the contract. But the local game parks, a special shout out to Governor’s camp, are very interested in learning and running the project. So we are still in talks with them. We hope this goes well.

Jacinta: [00:15:33] Oh, absolutely. And I really send my best wishes to you as well.

Carringtone: [00:15:38] Thank you

Jacinta: [00:15:38] for this. I think it’s an absolutely brilliant idea. If any of our listeners are interested in coming to visit one of these, where can they find information?

Carringtone: [00:15:51] We have a website, www.sayari.co.ke. You can shoot me an email Kinyanjuicarringtone@ gmail. I assume it will appear somewhere. Then we can have a talk. We are interested in replicating this all over Africa because Africa is usually called the dark continent and people think that’s a bad thing. It’s a wonderful thing. Yeah. So we want to replicate this in Africa, most probably start with South Africa and our neighboring countries, Uganda and Tanzania. We think it will be a beautiful thing, so that it is understood that this is a product of the African continent. I think that’s interesting.

Jacinta: [00:16:38] Of course, we’ll put those related links on our website. So any listeners who are interested can go and have a look in and just how do you spell Sayari?

Carringtone: [00:16:44] So Sayari, so that’s S -a -y- a-r-i. 

Jacinta: [00:16:52] Do you have any final messages for our listeners?

Carringtone: [00:16:54] Come to Kenya. There’s a story going around that in Kenya especially that academically trained astronomers have difficulty finding employment. There’s a problem with our tourism numbers dropping down.

So yeah, we can cry about that or we can innovate our way out of all these problems. We are human beings. Our job is to think most of the time. So we would like the young people to take up these opportunities in your respective countries. It doesn’t matter. If you’re a physics trained young person, there’s no reason why you can’t carry out this project in your country, in your local area. Just be innovative, and work your way into a solution. I’d like to thank DARA Development of Africa with Radio Astronomy for the incredible support. The organization of astronomy for development for a lot of support that went into this project. Also Professor Baki and the Technical University of Kenya, for facilitating our movement, our logistics and my personal university, The University of Nairobi, which I represent here.

I would also like to thank the government of Kenya. I’ve studied all through, using bursaries. Yeah. So I’d like to thank everybody who supported us.

Jacinta: [00:18:26] And we’d like to thank you, Carringtone for all of your efforts, for leading this project. And so congratulations to you and your team.

Thank you again, all the best. And thank you for talking with us today.

Carringtone: [00:18:39] Thank you, Jacinta. Thank you for having me.

Dan: [00:18:52] Great, thank you. I really enjoyed that.

Jacinta: [00:18:55] It was interesting, wasn’t it?

Dan: [00:18:56] It really was, and just wonderful to hear his enthusiasm. As a master student, he’s doing great stuff. And just as his aspiration to already take it beyond his own country. I mean, this is something which I would love to see happen in South Africa.

And I know there are some initiatives to begin some astro-tourism, more astro-tourism in South Africa and collect the astronomy stories in South Africa too. Some work has been done on this. There’s a great book called Venus Rising which you can download and we’ll stick a link to it on our website.

And a lot of this history has been recorded, but it’s not necessarily shared as widely as it should be and what Carringtone talks about and tries to tell these stories and communicate with people. These different understandings of the sky are really quite wonderful.

Jacinta: [00:19:52] Yeah, absolutely. And I’d love to do another episode on South Africa’s ethno-astronomy.

Dan: [00:19:57] Yeah. We should. I should give that book a solid read.

Jacinta: [00:20:00] Yeah. Well, if anyone knows a lot about this, please reach out to us because we’d love to talk to you, but off the top of your head, Dan, do you know any stories.

Dan: [00:20:08] I know of a couple. Different communities  obviously have a different understanding of the night sky.

I know in Sutherland we’ve got a small display about a boy who kind of collected the shooting stars and threw these stones up into the sky to create the stars. Which is, it’s pretty wonderful. Yeah. So we’ve got a little display about that up in Sutherland. And I mean, there’s a wealth of different understandings of the sky. The stars we used to tell the seasons obviously, and predict planting times Pleiades was very important for that. And yeah, there’s really a lot of stuff and we should definitely do an episode on it and find somebody who’s well versed in this to speak to.

Jacinta: [00:20:50] And Carringtone mentioned something about dark skies certification.

Are there any rules about that in Sutherland?

Dan: [00:20:56] So in Sutherland we do really try very hard. And in the local Southern community, there is an understanding and some obligation to keep the light to a minimum having downwards facing lights. But obviously that’s just in the local community. And more and more these days from towns as far as a hundred kilometers away, we’re starting to pick up the light pollution.

Jacinta: [00:21:20] I think you mentioned once that you can see Cape town’s light pollution from Sutherland.

Dan: [00:21:24] You can on a dark night you can see a glow in the sort of South Southwestern horizon from Cape town which is, you know, problematic and something which was very hard to deal with obviously. But again, this just speaks to the value of these dark skies and something which Africa has in abundance. The fact that you can get 400 Ks from a major city in the first place is pretty wonderful because there’s not many countries when you could do that.

So It is an important resource and one we should definitely preserve and celebrate.

Jacinta: [00:21:58] Definitely. I also loved Carringtone’s spirit of wanting to share his love of astronomy with more people, and that’s also something that our second guest Olayinka Fagbemiro is also doing. So Olayinka  is the assistant chief scientific officer at the Nigerian space agency, which is I think Africa’s first space agency. She’s also the national coordinator for Astronomers Without Borders, which is as the name suggests, an international association. You don’t just have to be an astronomer to participate in it, and it’s about teaching everybody about astronomy in the night sky. And Olayinka  is doing a lot of fabulous work to share her love of astronomy and the space science and space industry and technology with people who are never even seen or heard of a telescope before

Dan: [00:22:50] Astronomers without Borders is a wonderful project. So they run projects all around the world trying to reach as many people as they can with astronomy. And yeah, I’d love to hear what she has to say about it.

Jacinta: [00:23:01] Let’s hear from her.

Hi, we’re chatting with Olayinka Fagbemiro. Welcome Olayinka.

Olayinka [00:23:14] Hello.

Jacinta: [00:23:15] Olayinka you’re from the Nigerian space agency, is that right?

Olayinka: [00:23:19] Yes, please.

Jacinta: [00:23:20] Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you’re from, and what your job is.

Olayinka: [00:23:25] Okay. Thank you. My name is Olayinka Fagbemiro. I’m an assistant chief scientific officer with the Nigerian space agency, which is a national space research and development agency in Abuja in Nigeria. I’m also the founder and national coordinator for Astronomers without Borders in Nigeria. We started in 2013 so basically what I do, but other than a space agency and as AWB is astronomy education outreach, and I’m trying to create awareness in astronomy as space science in general in Nigeria.

Jacinta: [00:24:12] You said that there’s a lack of awareness of astronomy in Nigeria. So how did you get involved in the first place?

Olayinka: [00:24:20] Okay, well, I got involved by accident. Because when I was growing up I didn’t have anyone tell me about astronomy. I didn’t know what astronomy was, but one thing that I remember vividly that as kids, we would be outside out there in the evening, and then we’ll look at the moon, we’ll look at the stars, and then we have some elderly people, mostly non-literate people telling those stories. And there was a lot of meat about astronomy, like, you know, they tell you some, you know, of course, they didn’t know this scientific, they didn’t have the scientific understanding of these things. So they just come up with stories like folklore. I don’t know, they just come out with so many funny stories.

And then they tell us those things  and growing up you had to find out, you wanted to know more, like, is this really true? For example, they would tell you things like, if there was, so, like for example, you hear stories such as an elephant and the lion fighting in the woods.

So that is why everywhere went dark all of a sudden. And then, you know I was curious, I wanted to find out as I began to grow up, and then I had more understanding and I could go and read on my own, and then I found out, wow, these things are going on! So that really made me have interest in astronomy.

And so when I found myself at the Nigerian space agency it was natural for me to just toe the line.

Jacinta: [00:26:15] So can you firstly just explain to us what the Nigerian space agency is?

Olayinka: [00:26:19] Nigerian space agency is a pioneer space agency in Africa. It started in 1999 May 15th, the founder, the government that has started the agency, wanted Nigeria to develop capabilities in space science and technology.

And so the agency was started. And over the past 20 years the agency has been involved in a lot of developmental projects and activities. They have different centers.  They do a lot of things about satellite technology and developments, satellite transport and propu    lsion, geodesy and geodynamics, basic space and atmospheric studies,  atmospheric research and a whole lot.The agency does a whole lot over the course of these years of its existence. Also, the agency has been able to launch about six satellites to date, which were done in collaboration with international organizations and countries because we have yet to develop capability in launching these satellites on home soil. So what it basically does is collaborate with China, with the United Kingdom and so on. And then they have these projects.

Jacinta: [00:27:56] Can you tell us more about what your particular role is?

Olayinka: [00:27:59] Okay, so like I said, I’m an education outreach officer. And what that means is I carry out a lot of educational activities.

We want to be able to reach out to a lot of Nigerian kids. There are millions of Nigerian kids, and we’re trying to develop the next generation of kids in Africa who are going to take over the space industry. We want to create awareness. We want kids to know about space. We want kids to know about astronomy.

And so we want them to develop interest in having careers in these fields. And also we are trying to train teachers because we know that a lot of teachers don’t even know about space science themselves because most of our curricula do not have space science or astronomy as subjects in elementary and high schools.

So we’re training teachers, we’re training kids. We are popularizing astronomy. We are popularizing space science and technology. That is what we do. That is what I do.

Jacinta: [00:29:17] Wonderful. I mean, it’s obviously really important and like you said, there’s a lot of kids who don’t know about it and who could know about it.

We need the next generation of people trained so that they can take over. Right. So now  you said that you also founded The Astronomy Without Borders Nigeria in 2013 what’s that about?

Olayinka: [00:29:40] Okay. Thank you very much. Astronomy without borders is a global body, the president is Mike Simmons from the United States.

I think he started the organization. And then over the years we have different countries skinning into that and like the names are just like a community of astronomers from all around the world. So in 2013 I met Mike Siemens at the conference in Germany. Before AWB was funded, I was already into how to share activities. So it was really easy for me to transit into AWB. And since inception, we have been able to reach out to thousands of kids. I work with a team of young and enthusiastic scientists and engineers from Nigeria. Our passion and motivation is to see the next generation of African kids of Nigerian kids getting to know more about astronomy and getting to pick up careers in astronomy as they grew up.

Jacinta: [00:30:53] What are the sort of projects that you do as part of astronomy without borders, Nigeria

Olayinka: [00:30:57] Good. So we have a lot of projects that we do. The most popular being the astronomy outreach. Which means we go outside, we go on the streets, we go to schools, we go to places of worship. We are literally everywhere creating awareness about astronomy. We have telescopes, which we take out. And a lot of kids have not seen telescopes in their lives. So, when we go out and then we carry the telescopes, we are able to excite them, because when they see telescopes, and then we use that as an opportunity to teach them.

Also we train teachers because there are millions of kids in Nigeria, and then the membership of AWB is such that we will never be able to cover all the grant. So we started this idea of training the trainers where we train science teachers and then they go and turn back to the school to train their kids, their pupils. Also we have some gender based projects like the girls astronomy camp because in Nigeria a lot of girls are out of school and then there is this gender gap in STEM education in Nigeria. So, we started this project, which we focused on the girls to make sure they are not left behind.

Also, we key into some international astronomical events. For example, if we have a solar eclipse or Lunar Eclipse or any of such activities, we organize events around that event. We organize programs in Nigeria around such events, and then we invite people and we have  astronomy outreach with them as well.

Jacinta: [00:33:18] Are there any messages you’d like to share with our listeners?

Olayinka: [00:33:22] Yes. First and foremost I want to say that kids are genuinely excited about astronomy everywhere in the world. Astronomy is very exciting. It’s very interesting. And a lot of kids can relate to how interesting and exciting it is to just look up at the sky and then you’re able to see stars and are able to see the moon.

You know, it’s really a very good thing. You don’t need to push too hard before you get kids to be interested in astronomy. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do in the interior. You know, we go out on the streets and then we see kids and by the time we are setting up our telescope before we are done setting up, you see a lineup of kids already waiting because they are curious.

Kids are naturally curious, so they want to know. So what is this? And then also, I think Africa has arguably the best night skies in the world because most of our villages and towns don’t have the problem of light pollution. So it’s very easy to see things as opposed to people in the city centers where there’s light pollution or so like if I go on outreach to the villages, I just tell them, you guys think you don’t have electricity and so you are sad, but why not look at it this way. You have this beautiful night sky that without the aids of any device, you’re able to look up and you could see the craters on the moon. So I think it’s a good one. And then I want to encourage as many astronomas or astronomy interests. Yes. In Africa too please let us reach out to kids.

 So that we have this next generation of African kids who are already aware of what astronomy is and already to take off careers because whether we like it or not, we are going to retire someday and then who is going to take over? So we need to put in more effort into astronomy education in Africa.

Thank you.

Jacinta: [00:35:50] Yeah. I mean, thank you so much for speaking with us today, Olayinka. I think that the work you’re doing is so incredibly important and congratulations to you and to all of  your team members, and good luck for it in the future.

Olayinka: [00:36:03] Thank you very much.

Dan: [00:36:16] Great stuff. I didn’t know Nigeria had a space agency nevermind the first one. 

Jacinta: [00:36:20] A well established one launching its own satellite.

Dan: [00:36:22] Yeah. That’s incredible very exciting. Nigeria is a big country and I’m glad they’re supporting this sort of stuff.

Jacinta: [00:36:28] Absolutely.

Dan: [00:36:29] And also the astronomers without borders work she’s doing is wonderful.

It’s another one of these great ways in which we’re trying to reach as many people as possible. And it’s wonderful that these organizations existed. If you’d like to support them, you can actually, if you go to the astronomers without borders website. Astronomers without borders.org which is quite easy, uh, you can donate and support these programs.

They have a list of the programs that they’re running in future programs that they will run. So you can see what they’re doing and how it’s having an effect. 

Jacinta: [00:37:00] And we didn’t get much chance to go into a lot of detail with Olayinka about the exact projects that she’s running. She’s just such a driven person and they’re so passionate and just so much, so much stuff that they’re doing.

And I loved what she was saying about taking out a telescope and the kids had never seen it before and they were wildly excited to have a look through it.

Dan: [00:37:23] Yeah. That’s one of the great things about astronomy and not just what you see through a telescope. I think. So many people you encounter have never looked through a telescope before.

It almost doesn’t matter what they’re looking at. Even if you pointed at an earth bound object, people are excited. It’s quite a thing to see that sort of magnification.

Jacinta: [00:37:41] Yeah. And Olyainka made a really good point that we really need to put more effort into astronomy education in Africa. And I thought it was really interesting how both her and Carringtone got interested in astronomy by complete accident.

Dan: [00:37:55] I think it’s surprising how often that happens. Unfortunately, I did not. I was, I was very interested,

Jacinta: [00:38:02] as we heard in a previous episode, it was directly handed to me in a book.

Dan: [00:38:07] but a lot of people have stumbled into astronomy. It’s not one of those things where people hear enough about, you don’t hear about it as a child, as a possible career path, and to some degree that falls on us.

And that’s kind of the stuff we’re trying to do here is show people what people are doing in astronomy. All of the varied careers people are involved, and then how you can be involved in astronomy. And if that can get through to young children, then maybe they will see astronomy as a career option.

Jacinta: [00:38:37] Yeah, and also that Africa excels at astronomy. It’s something that we can all be proud of.

Dan: [00:38:45] Absolutely and grow. I think it’s growing very, very fast and there’s a lot of growth to happen in Africa. It’s a very exciting place to be.

Jacinta: [00:38:55] That’s why I’m here.

Dan: [00:38:57] Yeah, it’s true. There’s a massive pull right now to African astronomy.

Great. And we will have links to all of the websites we’ve mentioned, the projects on the website. So if you’d like to find out more, if you’d like to donate, you can do so. And we’ll post those links.

Jacinta: [00:39:14]  I think that’s it for today, right?

Dan: [00:39:18] Yeah. Thanks again for listening and we hope you’ll join us again on the next episode of the cosmic Savannah.

Jacinta: [00:39:24] You can visit our website, the cosmic savannah.com where we’ll have links related to today’s episode, and you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at Cosmic Savannah. That’s Savannah, spelled S. a. v. a. n. n. a. h.

Dan: [00:39:37] Special thanks to our guests today, Carringtone Kinyanjul and Olayinka Fagbemiro

Jacinta: [00:39:43] Thanks to Mark Allnut for music production.

Janus Brink for astrophotography. Lana Ceraj for graphic design and for social media support.

Dan: [00:39:51] We gratefully acknowledge the support of the South African National Research Foundation and the South African Astronomical Observatory to help keep the podcast running.

Jacinta: [00:39:58] You can subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Please rate and review us and recommend us to a friend

Dan: [00:40:06] and we’ll speak to you next time on The Cosmic Savannah.

Jacinta: [00:40:17] Coming up on The Cosmic Savannah.

I would like to say, especially to young girls, because in South Africa, most of the guys do astronomy and they think that it can’t do anything, but as these girls we can change the world of astronomy. And you have the power to do that in astronomy a lot of things where you would want to move and you can explore a lot.