Stars that Go Bang in the Night – Astronomy Talk
On the 22nd February 2018 the Faculty Of Science and University of Botswana Computer Science Department (UBCS) co-hosted an engaging accessible Astronomy public talk (lecture) as part of the formation of the Botswana Astronomical Society in conjunction with the Department of Research, Science and Technology (DRST) under the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology (MoTe) at the University of Botswana Health Sciences Auditorium. The talk was attended by Ministry officials led by Deputy Permanent Secretary Dr K. Baipoledi and Director of DRST Mrs Lesego Thamae and their team. Professor M.P Modisi - Director of Office of Research and Development UB welcomed the distinguished guests and delegates on behalf of the Vice Chancellor and the University Of Botswana and highlighted the great significance of these types of talks and the importance of science Communication.
The Master Of Ceremonies Dr Tshiamo Motshegwa on introducing the guest speaker indicated that Professor Mike Bode, is a visiting Professor at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). He indicated that Visiting Scholars like Professor Bode have a significant role to play in the formative years of development of Space sciences – education and research in developing countries like Botswana and provide exemplary role model to aspiring young scientists like the ones in attendance. Professor Mike Bode retired in 2015 as Professor of Astrophysics at Liverpool John Moores University where he was the founding Director of the LJMU Astrophysics Research Institute and he is currently European Astronomical Society Special Representative to the EU in Brussels. Professor Bode is a council member of the Royal Astronomical Society in the United Kingdom.
Professor Bode gave an insightful presentation on the topic ‘Stars that Go Bang in the Night’. He set the scene and took the audience through a journey of Astronomy in time, space, celestial objects, instruments and the science – his talk captured among others, the scale and content of the universe including revelations by the Hubble Ultra Deep field of the mind boggling scale of the universe through millions of observed galaxies even in a confined view of the skies. Professor Bode discussed observing so called ‘new stars’, Novae, Super Novae, and inadvertent discoveries of Gamma Ray Bursts. Professor Bode discussed great potential and future Astronomy prospects in Botswana including possible collaborative observatory projects which will be part of major International projects to be placed in Botswana - citing examples of Thailand’s journey in developing in this area through its optical telescope projects and supported by the Thai government and Royalty. Professor Bode then talked about the newly formed Botswana Astronomical Society of which this public talk was second in a lecture series of the society
Beginning his talk, he provided an overview of the Solar system and the relative size, distance and volume of the Earth, Moon, the sun, Jupiter and the Pleiades (seven sisters) cluster of stars. He then carried the audience off on a journey to the expanding universe. He described the main types of exploding stars and looked at some of the history of their observation, stretching back to over 2000 years.
He further talked about galaxies – giving examples of the M74 Spiral arm galaxy about 32 Million light years away from our planet Earth – a home to billions of stars. Professor Bode then discussed our own galaxy – the Milky Way , at the center of which scientists suspect existence of a super-massive Black Hole. He then took the audience on an exploration of how such stars are thought to explode and why their study is so important. He explained what happens when stars explode, most energetic examples being the most titanic explosions since the Big Bang. He talked on Modern-ground based observatories to observe events in space, Supernovae which are much rarer than classical novae. He also talked about How Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) were discovered in 1967 but kept a secret until 1973 – which were known early on to be outside the Solar System, but it was only in the late 1990s that they were shown to be at vast distances in the Cosmos.
Discussing on the future prospects in Botswana, he shared about the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) - the world’s largest ever groundbased astronomy project, and one in which Botswana is destined to make valuable contribution. The project envisages an array of networked radio telescopes – a radio interferometer with Botswana hosting some of the sites. Professor Bode mentioned projects like the SKA will require great advances infrastructure and in renewable energy power supply in the remote sites which will benefit local communities. He also mentioned potential and envisaged National Optical Observatory that can be built in Botswana and prove a great opportunity for young Batswana and Astronomy enthusiasts. He also mentioned that amateur astronomers using their telescopes in their backyards still make a valuable contribution to our understanding of astronomy and the remaining many unknowns.
During the Q&A time he answered questions from the diverse and wide audience, mostly youthful minds and gave details on how useful astronomy is to our day to day life, including acting as a very powerful force behind technological advancements given its requirement for powerful instruments for seeing deeper and further with high accuracy – the technology that eventually trickles into everyday usage.
For his part, the MC of the day Dr. Tshiamo Motshegwa from the Computer Science Department, gave a rousing encouragement to the young attendees to get excited and enthused about science and research, and aim to be part of the mentioned Astronomy projects right here in our deserts. He indicated that projects like the SKA telescope will churn out huge amounts of data and will require physical, data and compute infrastructure therefore young Batswana Scientists and engineers stand to benefit. In addition to enthusing students to explore astronomy, he cited one of his passionate students, Mr. Badisa Mosesane who has worked on a prestigious project at CERN at the Large Hydron Collider in Switzerland in 2017 through a summer internship and a travel sponsorship from Cray Inc. arranged by Stem Trek NGO in the US – he indicated that Mr Badisa provided good example of how students can get to the best institutions in the world through summer schools to gain exposure and return to share experiences with others.
Dr Motshegwa said envisaged Astronomy projects, including the SKA would put Botswana on the map and that it will be interesting to see the next big discovery coming from the bright young minds in Botswana – contributing to unravelling the many unknown unknowns of mysteries of the universe.
Giving a vote of thanks, the Director of DRST Mrs Thamae applauded the guest speaker for an informative elaborate lecture and added that youth should seize these opportunities and contribute with their talent to take astronomy further in Botswana.
In closing, Professor Bode made an announcement for the newly formed Botswana Astronomical Society, whose secretariat will be hosted at BIUST. The Society will be having a business meeting held at Maru-a-pula school, AV Centre, Thursday 1 March at 6PM. Anyone wishing to help with the Society’s development is welcome to attend. The previous talk by Professor Bode in this series was on The Star of Bethlehem – An Astronomer’s view