South African Based Astronomy Office Expands to North America

The North American Regional Office of Astronomy for Development was officially established on 29th January 2020 at a signing ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa. The event was attended by the President of the International Astronomical Union and marked the formation of the eleventh Regional Office of this joint IAU-South African initiative.


The  Office  of  Astronomy  for  Development (OAD),  a joint initiative of  the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU), aims to further the use of astronomy for sustainable development. The latest Regional Office of this IAU-South African initiative will be setup in North America, operated by a consortium comprising   the   Adler  Planetarium,  Associated  Universities  Inc.  (AUI),   Association  of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), and Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM (GLAS). The new Regional Office was officially launched at a ceremony on 29 January in Cape Town, attended by the President of the IAU, Prof Ewine van Dishoeck, and representatives from all the other Regional Offices.


Prof Ewine van Dishoeck, President of the IAU, was present to sign the agreement on behalf of the IAU. “I am delighted that the North American Regional Office, with its wealth of expertise, is joining the IAU family. The IAU vision has always been for developing and developed countries to work jointly towards realising the goals of Astronomy for Development worldwide.”


The global OAD was represented by its Director, Kevin Govender, who said, “The vision of global development cannot be realised without key partners in different regions of the world. The North American region is particularly important given the influence it has on the rest of the world, and we are proud to be launching this new regional office today.”


Regional Offices work closely with the OAD to execute the vision of “Astronomy for a better world,” with a focus on a geographic or cultural region. The other Regional Offices are located in: Armenia, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand, and   Zambia.   The   newest   Regional   Office   will   carry   out   and   coordinate   relevant astronomy-for-development activities in the North American Region, focusing on accomplishing the  United  Nations  Sustainable  Development  Goals,   including  equitable  economic  and workforce development and addressing the climate crisis. These tasks will be carried out in cooperation with existing activities of pan-North American and national astronomical organisations. In its first year, priority will be given to carrying out a needs assessment of the North American region, building relationships with the extended network of partners and key stakeholders  throughout  the  North   American  region  and  through  the  Regional  Offices


worldwide,  and  establishing  a  comprehensive  strategic  plan  for  how  the  North  American

Regional Office can best support the OAD goals in North America and globally.


“AURA has a long tradition of engaging with the public through the excitement of astronomy and is pleased to join our partners in coordinating the new North American Regional Office,” said Matt Mountain, AURA President. “This new office has great potential and will expand the reach of the IAU’s OAD. We look forward to assisting in its creation.”


“GLAS’ Mission, to preserve and sustain former education outreach programs from Yerkes Observatory, has alway been about using astronomy to engage the underrepresented and the underserved. We are excited to take the tools that have been created and combine them with the new resources that this partnership can open up.”


Dr. Laura Trouille, Vice President of Citizen Science at the Adler Planetarium added, “This new office is directly aligned with the Adler Planetarium’s vision to connect people, communities, and institutions to one another through the wonder of space science... and use our collective knowledge and skills to create a better world for everyone. We are thrilled to be a leader in this new effort.”


Adam Cohen, the President of AUI, remarked: “AUI is excited to work with the IAU and our partners to engage with the international community to address the needs of underserved communities around the world. AUI is pursuing activities broadly in R&D, embracing and integrating  the  UN  Sustainable  Development  Goals,  and  helping to increase diversity and support additional opportunities to pursue astronomy activities as a key element of AUI’s mission.”




International Astronomical Union (IAU):

The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together about 13 000 distinguished astronomers from around the world. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world’s largest professional body for astronomers.


Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD):

The International Astronomical Union (IAU), through a joint partnership with the South African National Research Foundation (NRF), and with strong support from the South African Department of  Department of  Science and Innovation (DSI), established in 2011 the global


Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), hosted at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa. The OAD’s vision is simply “Astronomy for a better world!” and its mission is: “To help further the use of astronomy as a tool for development by mobilizing the human and financial resources necessary in order to realise the field’s scientific, technological and cultural benefits to society.”


The Adler Planetarium:

Chicago’s Adler Planetarium connects people, communities, and institutions to one another through the wonder of space science so we can explore our Universe together and use our collective knowledge and skills to create a better world for everyone. The Adler is a leader in space visualization, immersive planetarium experiences, and citizen science. The Adler’s citizen science efforts include engaging Chicago’s teens in engineering design and research through high altitude balloon experiments and underwater meteorite hunting as well as the public worldwide through, a collaboration between the Adler, the University of Oxford, the University of Minnesota, hundreds of researchers, and 2 million people around the world leading people-powered research and discovery.



AUI is a non-profit research management organization dedicated to planning, building, and operating  large  national  and  international  scientific  facilities,  cultivating  scientific  and operational excellence, and developing a diverse and inclusive STEM workforce. Currently AUI manages the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (EVLA) in New Mexico, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, in collaboration with its international partners, ESO and NAOJ. AUI’s STEM education programs include Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy (IDATA) making astronomy accessible to the blind and visually impaired, the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP) building awareness of astronomy-related activities  in  Chile,  and  the  Chile-US  Astronomy  Education  &  Outreach  Summit  bringing together more than 100 stakeholders to assess the current state of astronomy education and outreach in Chile, and create a series of recommendations moving forward.


The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is a consortium of 47 US institutions and 3 international affiliates that operates world-class astronomical observatories for the National Science Foundation and NASA. AURA’s role is to establish, nurture, and promote public observatories and facilities that advance innovative astronomical research. In addition, AURA is deeply committed to public and educational outreach, and to diversity throughout the astronomical and scientific workforce. AURA carries out its role through its astronomical facilities. AURA is responsible for the successful management and operation of its three centers:


NSF’s   National   Optical-Infrared   Astronomy   Research   Laboratory;   the   National   Solar

Observatory (NSO); and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).



GLAS Education represents the staff and programs of the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay Wisconsin during its period of closure.  YEO/GLAS has been growing steadily in its capacity to effectively partner with traditionally underrepresented communities and educators who serve them. Through consistent community support, GLAS has made significant progress in the ability to  deliver  accessible  astronomy  STEAM  content  and  experiences  to  those  communities nationally.  GLAS strives to reduce the barriers to science through accessible tools, expanding awareness, and reaching out through our nested mentoring system. Through a model of nested mentorship, participants in GLAS programs are empowered with knowledge, experience and leadership opportunities large and small that impact their schools and communities. GLAS will leverage its experience and community networks to serve the ROAD and support related initiatives nationally and internationally.




CONTACTS Kevin Govender

Director, IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tel: +27 21 460 9350

Cell: +27 82 487 8466


Dr Daniel Cunnama

Science Engagement Astronomer

South African Astronomical Observatory

 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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