Astronomy is in the forefront of science and technology and has the potential to answer fundamental questions on the origins of the universe and humanity’s place in it. It transcends boundaries that divide people, and speaks to all society. Astronomy also is a key driver of innovation and an important catalyst for scientific and technical development as well as empowering human capacity for the knowledge-based economy of the future.
At the First BRICS Science, Technology and Innovation Ministerial Meeting held in Cape Town, the following five priority areas were endorsed, to be led by the respective BRICS member countries:
(a) Prevention and mitigating of natural disasters – Brazil
(b) Water resources and pollution treatment – Russia
(c) Geospatial technology and its applications – India
(d) New and renewable energy, and energy efficiency – China
(e) Astronomy – South Africa
During the Second BRICS STI Ministerial Meeting in March 2015 in Brazil, the BRICS member countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on STI cooperation. This MoU makes provision for three governing structures: the BRICS STI Ministerial Meeting; the BRICS STI Senior Officials Meeting; and the BRICS STI Working Groups. The latter are responsible for promoting cooperation activities in the designated priority areas, which should be convened at least once a year.
At the Third BRICS STI Ministerial meeting held in October 2015 in Moscow, the Work Plan was adopted and it was agreed that South Africa would host the First BRICS Astronomy Working Group Meeting during the first two weeks of December 2015 in Cape Town.
In terms of establishing the BRICS astronomy working group, South Africa will broadly follow the same format being used by other BRICS member countries who lead working groups and host BRICS STI workshops. Following this inaugural workshop, other BRICS astronomy workshops will be convened on an annual basis in South Africa (or elsewhere if so agreed).
The initial BRICS astronomy meeting (in December 2015) comprised a BRICS Astronomy Workshop and the inaugural meeting of the BRICS Astronomy Working Group, as well as site visits to the Square Kilometer Array and the Southern African Large Telescope.
The BRICS Astronomy Workshop provides a platform for BRICS member countries to engage on policy issues and other matters related to research, development and practice in astronomy, and to explore mechanisms for promoting BRICS cooperation in astronomy. The spectrum of scientific issues to be discussed may include: observational, theoretical and computational studies of the Sun and space weather, exoplanets, stellar astrophysics and asteroseismology, star formation, evolution of stars, the interstellar medium and astro-chemistry, galactic chemical evolution, transient phenomena, pulsars, neutral hydrogen in galaxies, active galactic nuclei and high-redshift galaxies, time-resolved astronomy and galaxy evolution.
The BRICS Astronomy Working Group is composed of government officials (or their designated representatives) supported by the focal points on astronomy and experts from BRICS member countries.
Mission of the BRICS Astronomy Working Group
The mission of the BRICS Astronomy Working Group is to promote cooperation between BRICS member countries in the field of astronomy and enabling technologies through joint activities of government, universities, research institutions, and industry, as relevant, in order to develop astronomical sciences, generate new knowledge, train human capital, develop new technologies and applications, and improve public understanding of science.
The formation and implementation of cooperation activities follows the principles of voluntarism and openness, and each party will participate at their own cost unless alternative sources of funding can be identified.
The Department of Science and Technology of South Africa acts as the Secretariat to the Astronomy Working Group, and is responsible for:
- Dissemination of information to the Astronomy Working Group using various media, including a website;
- Organising annual meetings (providing a venue and meeting facilities, meeting agendas and relevant documents, coordinating experts,);
- Capture and maintaining proceedings of the Working Group;
Reports on the activities of the BRICS Astronomy Working Group will be submitted to the BRICS STI Senior Officials’ Meeting.