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Soapbox Science Cape Town – 25 Nov 2023


V&A Waterfront Cape Town – 25th November 2023

STAY TUNED! @SoapboxScienceCT

Dutch Delegation Visit to UCT Astronomy

In an exciting display of international cooperation and astronomical exploration, the University of Cape Town (UCT) hosted a delegation from the Netherlands government at the RW James Building on 14 October (Saturday Night Fever). The event, organised by the UCT Department of Astronomy, included some speakers who shared their insights on the future possibilities of astronomy research. Here you can find UCT’s news item while below you can see me invoking the power of big data with my hands;-)

BRICS Astronomy Data Science Hackathon

The BRICS Astronomy Working Group Meeting 2023 was hosted by South Africa at SAAO‘s headquarters in Cape Town. The meeting ended on a high note with a Data Science Hackathon organized by Hack4dev and by the indefatigable Eslam Hussein in particular. Well done to the 30 participants and to the tutors who showed them the ways of data science applications in astronomy in a friendly and collaborative context. Per Astra ad Aspera;-)

Courtesy of ChatGPT: “Draw a team of students working together on a hackathon to classify astronomical sources. Make it look like they are having fun.”

HELP-ing Extragalactic Surveys in the Netherlands

I spent the (mostly rainy, apart from a sun-kissed conference dinner on a “party boat” cruise on the canals:-) week at Leiden’s Lorentz Center with 50-odd jolly astro folks discussing extragalactic surveys within a workshop I helped organise as part of the HELP project.


The sometime confusing dynamic agenda allowed for plenty of opportunities to get together in small groups in our cosy shared offices to discuss recent progress of and future prospects for our “grand plan” to bring together multi-wavelength surveys across the Herschel extragalactic sky and thus help clarify the history of cosmic star formation and black hole accretion density. A preliminary set of tools and data products was shared with the participants, so as to get their early feedback and encourage them to use them in their work in a timely manner. Needless to say, we received plenty of useful suggestions, some of which we may even get around to implement over the course of the project. Bookmark our web siteour data archive and our software repository and watch our for future data and code releases. Glad to be of help (poor pur intended;-)help-leiden-workshop-poster

Working on an IDIA

The first meeting organized by the recently established UCT/UWC/NWU/UP Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy successfully came to a close last night with a braai at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). The Data Science Workshop held at UWC on 12/13 April 2016 brought together researchers from IDIA partners, affiliated research organisations and industry partners from IBM, SAP and SAS, to brainstorm research priorities and possible projects to be pursued within IDIA. If the enthusiasm (admittedly also fuelled by the abundant Shiraz) seen last night as SAAO was any guide, the South African Astronomical and Data Science community have embraced the goals of IDIA with gusto.




The Many Facets of Extragalactic Radio Surveys

I’m off to beautiful & lively Bologna later today for “The Many Facets of Extragalactic Radio Surveys” conference. It’s been an eventful few months for Italian Radio-Astronomy, with their much-praised but eventually unsuccessful bid to host SKA‘s permanent headquarters, a re-organization of most radio-astronomy research & development under a new institute, and now a radio-astronomer called upon to be INAF‘s new president.

“The purpose of this meeting is to explore new scientific perspectives offered by modern radio surveys, focusing on synergies allowed by multi-frequency, multi-resolution observations. We will bring together researchers working on wide aspects of the physics and evolution of extra-galactic radio sources, from star-forming galaxies to AGNs and clusters of galaxies, including their role as cosmological probes. The organization of this conference has been inspired by the recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Northern Cross Radio Telescope in Medicina, whose pioneering B2 and B3 surveys provided a significant contribution to radio astronomical studies for many decades afterwards.”


Oh My God! – It’s Full of Bytes…

I spent the week in beautiful and (in spite of forecasts) mostly sunny Dubrovnik attending the AstroInformatics 2015 conference and the BigSkyEarth collaboration meeting catching up on the latest applications of Computer Science to Astronomy, Earth Observations as well as other disciplines. While everyone is seemingly into Big Data these days, a lot of the techniques & tools have long been available and (some) astronomers are only slowly catching up, but thanks to well-established Open Standards and the largely Open Data Policy within the astronomical community, however, progress looks more rapid than in most other disciplines. Which is very good news considering that today’s ‘big’ astronomical datasets will soon be dramatically superseded by eminently data-intensive projects such as LSST and SKA. A number of conference attendees will be visiting Cape Town next year for an IVOA Interoperability Meeting, which will hopefully allow the South African community to establish or strengthen collaborations in this fledgling field.

PS : while it appears that signature scenes from a TV series which I’m told is VERY popular in some circles have long been shot in Dubrovnik and more than a few pointers were available to remind the casual visitor about it, to my fellow astronomers’ defence (for a change) I’m glad to say that conversations were remarkably free of any related nonsense!;-)

That’s an IDIA

Celebrations were in order today at the South African Astronomical Observatory for the launch of the newly-established NWU/UCT/UWC Inter-University Centre for Data-Intensive Astronomy (IDIA).

The Institute aims to kickstart Big Data research and teaching initiatives across (South) Africa in collaboration with academic and industrial partners as well as (South) African and International government and funding agencies.

The Institute’s founding director, UCT/UWC’s Prof Russ Taylor, was joined at the agreement-signing and cake-cutting ceremony by the three founding partners’ Vice-Chancellors, South Africa’s Minister of Science & Technology Naledi Pandor and SKA South Africa Project Director Dr Bernie Fanaroff.

Netherlands / South Africa Radio Continuum Surveys Workshop

The more observationally inclined UWC-ers will be hosted by UCT tuesday-to-thursday this Easter week to attend the Netherlands / South Africa Radio Continuum Surveys Workshop co-funded by Netherlands’s NWO and South Africa’s NRF. LOFAR surveys and science and miscellaneous radio data reduction and analysis techniques are on show, looking forward to the MeerKAT and the SKA. I have just delivered my HELP talk and Jon is discussing stacking as I write. Oh, and there will be wine and cheese tonight as well as “theatrical dining” (!?) at  Star Dust tomorrow night. Too bad our illustrious leader who was going to visit us on the occasion was knocked out by a nasty bug and has thus not been able to join us. Get better soon!

And we are back (at the edge of the Universe)

Along with some UWC chums (i.e. Imogem, Kim & Mario) I spent a very pleasant (well, at least until I got a flu;/) week in Sintra (Portugal) attending the “Back at the edge of the Universe” conference. The meeting was devoted to discuss astronomers’ present and future studies of the high-redshift Universe, including their attempts at detecting the Universe’s ‘First Light’, i.e. the first galaxies and black holes to have formed after the Big Bang, and assessing their impact on the reionization of  the Universe. This followed a previous gathering from 9 years ago organized on the same grounds, and the meeting was thus also a chance to take stock of the substantial progress  made in tackling these questions over the last decade. The long science sessions in beautiful Sintra were made all the more pleasant by the terrific home team led by Jose Afonso and Portugal’s newly established Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences and by frequent generous helpings of Bacalau & Porto, and perhaps unsurprisingly everybody is now hoping to get a chance to make it back here for another conference much sooner than in 9 years time. We’ll see about that.

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