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Our changing galactic neighbourhood

| June 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Rob Johnstone

Man has always been fascinated by the night sky and the study of astronomy is actually the oldest of all the studied sciences, dating as far back as 3500BC.1

The first documented astronomers were the Babylonians,2 who used clay tablets to note movement in the heavens. Many other civilizations also used the night sky to know when to plant and harvest crops, based on the position of certain stars.

Fast-forward to 2006, when, at the meeting of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Prague, Czech Republic, a decision was made to redefine the definition of a planet.3

Then, in 2011, a team of international astronomers reported in the journal Nature that there could be as many as 400 billion undiscovered planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone, said Saswato Das in the New York Times.4

SOLNA spreads the news

Even though today’s technology allows anyone access to view the night sky from their smartphones, these changes have not been officially updated in our school curricula. Says Das: “You may wonder… why something so ‘earth-shattering’ as the discovery of innumerable planets has not caused more excitement in the broad public. One reason, I would suggest, is that scientific discoveries take a while to register in the popular consciousness.”5

This is where Space Observation Learning Namibia (SOLNA) comes into the picture. I established SOLNA in 2009 to bring such discoveries and changes to the attention of students, teachers and schools across southern Africa, in the form of a multimedia presentation using the latest information and photos. I am a full-time astronomer with a passion to educate any and everyone on the wonders of astronomy and our place in our Milky Way galaxy, where our solar system resides.

I also offer students and teachers the chance to view our sun in real time through a state-of-the-art solar telescope, through which one can see solar flares, sunspots and filaments on the surface of the sun. There is no damage to the eyes due to highly specialised filters, which filter out 99.9% of all harmful glare.

The multimedia presentation is followed by a question-andanswer session, and prizes are awarded for the best question asked and answer given.

Prominent partnerships

SOLNA works in partnership with the National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST),6 based in Namibia, as well as the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA).7

SOLNA also sets some of the questions for the annual South African Grade 7 SAASTA science quiz. I plan to launch a SAASTA science quiz in Namibia in 2015 for Grade 7s, and one or two schools will get the chance to represent Namibia at the southern Africa SAASTA regional finals, which usually take place in South Africa in October.

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5. Ibid.
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Category: Winter 2015

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