The initiative has been inspired by the very high quality of night skies in the country, particularly in the north, where meteorological analysis suggests that there are sites comparable with others around the world where large research-level observatories have been established.
Why Kenya ?
Kenya straddles the equator. This affords equal access to both the northern and southern celestial hemispheres. Kenya also occupies a longitudinal area that has very few other telescopes in the world. When a Kenyan telescope operates in tandem with observatories in, say, India and the Canary Islands, this confers a huge advantage for researchers who need to monitor astronomical events continuously as the earth rotates.
Whilst being fairly accessible, the best Kenyan sites are far from urban or industrial development. There is thus very little pollution of the sky either by light or effluent. At the same time, even remote sites can be supported by a well-developed ICT infrastructure, enabling observational data to be shared around the world.
Kenya’s universities host a number of departments where skills in this discipline are being developed. However, Kenyan astronomers currently have to travel abroad to acquire direct experience of optical observation at an advanced level.
Who is involved ?
The local working party represents several universities in Kenya that have an established interest in astronomy, physics and related sciences. These include the Technical University of Kenya, Kenyatta University and the University of Nairobi. Where the first observatory is likely to be sited, members of the local community in Samburu Country have also been engaged. Other companies in Kenya’s private sector are currently giving their time to ensure that the project bears fruit in the coming years.
Internationally, we are supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund in the UK and the South African Large Telescope (SALT). Grant support has also come from NACOSTI (Kenya) and the National Research Council (South Africa).