The space sector in Africa is growing, though this may come as a surprise to some. Making people aware of scientific progress is the realm of science communication, so who is working to make sure people know about Africa’s developing space sector? We spoke with Dr. Jacinta Delhaize, who along with Dr. Daniel Cunnama hosts The Cosmic Savannah. It is a podcast about the professional astronomy and astrophysics work happening on the African continent, aimed at the general public. Each episode, they interview different members of Africa’s astronomy community. We ask Dr. Delhaize about the podcast, African astronomy, and her background.
Why is it important to have a podcast about African astronomy?
Africa as a “dark continent” is often viewed internationally and by its citizens in a negative light. However, the remarkable African skies and the incredible astrophysics work happening on the continent is world-leading and something that everyone can be proud of. The Cosmic Savannah podcast aims to provide the general public of Africa, and of the world, with insight into the world of professional astronomy in Africa in an engaging and easy-to-understand way. We want to feed the public’s already engaged interest in astronomy, to demonstrate that this is something that the people of Africa can be incredibly proud of. And we intend to share with an international audience the excellent work that is happening in Africa.
The podcast format ensures that this information can be accessed for free by anyone anywhere with an internet connection. Since our guests also only need to have an internet connection to be interviewed, we can help give a voice to those from underrepresented communities or with disadvantaged backgrounds. The Cosmic Savannah podcast can therefore be a powerful tool in supporting and sustaining the knowledge economy of Africa.
What do you think are some of the most exciting areas in African astronomy?
How to choose? There is so much happening across all wavelengths of light! The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere with a whopping 11-meter mirror! It has been used to do all kinds of science, including studying the spectral signatures of distant galaxies, stars, and supernovae. It was also one of the telescopes used for follow-up detections of the double neutron star merger that generated a recent gravitational wave detection!
On the low-energy end of the spectrum, South Africa’s new MeerKAT telescope is one of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes. It is being used to study everything from pulsars, to supermassive black holes, to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. It will eventually be incorporated into the enormous Square Kilometre Array telescope that will be built partially on the African continent and be used to gaze all the way back to the universe’s earliest epochs.
All the way at the gamma-ray end of the spectrum, the High Energy Spectroscopic System (HESS) telescope in Namibia is detecting Cherenkov light generated by cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere. This is giving clues about what’s going on inside galaxies, nebulae, supernovae, and other cosmic objects.
By combining all this data from all these African telescopes functioning across the electromagnetic spectrum, we’re getting a clearer idea of what’s happening out there in the universe.
How did you become interested in this topic?
I’m a professional astronomer working on radio astronomy research at the University of Cape Town. My podcast co-host, Dr. Daniel Cunnama, is the public engagement astronomer at the South African Astronomical Observatory. We’re both really passionate about astronomy and really enjoy talking about it with school students and the general public. So we thought, why not try to share this with as many interested people as possible? It’s been an incredibly fun journey learning how to make a podcast, trying out our equipment, and gaining sound editing skills. We’re also very humbled by the support from our listeners. Thanks to everyone for listening and we hope you continue to enjoy the podcast!