Kenya Unit 1  

Professor Peter Wilkinson & Dr Althea Wilkinson, University of Manchester, UK

3-15 November 2019

Technical University of Kenya, Kenya

Eleven students attended the Unit 1 training at Technical University of Kenya (TUK) in Nairobi from 3 November to 15 November 2019. To suit their differing backgrounds the course struck a balance between the essentials of astrophysics and an introduction to radio astronomy concepts. The former was backed up with participatory workshops on galaxy classifications in the “nearby” and “distant” universe and a determination of the rotation curve of the Milky Way. The latter was backed up with practical demonstrations of the radio frequency “interference” environment in a busy city and how radio astronomers calibrate their receivers using “noise diodes”. In the second week the class had an “away day” visit to Kenyatta University (KU); the host was Dr Nadir Hashim who gave an inspiring lecture on the role of “big science” (like the SKA) in forging peaceful links between nations, regardless of their politics. We saw that KU is developing its astronomy and radio astronomy activities and has acquired two 7m satcom radio dishes which will be ideal for training purposes when they can be pointed in azimuth and elevation. 

 

Mid-way through the course the planet Mercury transited the Sun in mid-afternoon local time. Using the DARA optical telescope in projection-mode attempts were made to observe the transit from the TUK car park. The challenge was great given the small size of Mercury. The activity attracted a lot of attention – from TUK students and the local media to the Vice Chancellor of TUK. The VC is a geodesist by training and he was keen that astronomy student should be able to “find” stars with a telescope – even mentioning the FK5 astrometric catalogue! He suggested siting the DARA Telescope in an optical observatory on top of a tall TUK building.

 

On the final afternoon the students were asked to give short presentations (in pairs or individually) on a topic of their choice related to Unit 1. A wide range of subjects emerged from “Why are we here?” and “Black Holes” to the increasing size of Lake Nakuru as observed from space. Giving these talks and listening to each other’s ideas, provided the students with an experience for the future and made a fitting end to the course.