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Space, the ‘final frontier,’ is within reach even for Filipinos

For Filipinos, becoming an astronaut or an astronomer someday may no longer be an impossible dream.

This was the good news the International Astronomical Union (IAU) delivered to several college students during a seminar hosted by the Nido Fortified Science Discovery Center (NFSDC) at the SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City.

Dubbed as the IAU Gala Night at The Planetarium, the seminar underscored the “importance of astronomy and its role in development.” It aimed to educate Filipinos and promote awareness among them about this field of study.

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Founded in 1919, IAU is an organization of some 10,000 astronomers from around the world that aims to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation.

It also promotes astronomical education and research in developing countries.

A 20-minute film, “New Horizons,” was shown during the seminar opening the eyes of students from De La Salle University, Rizal Technological University and University of the Philippines Diliman and Los Baños (UPLB) campuses to the wonders of outer space.

Dr. Rogel Mari Sese, head of the astrophysics laboratory of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Physics at UPLB, discussed the challenges and opportunities of astronomy in the Philippines.

He told the audience, composed mainly of mathematics and physics majors, that those dreaming to become astronauts must have “a thorough knowledge of math and physics.”

They also needed “skill in either instrumentation or engineering, and dedication and commitment,” Sese added.

Sese said three Ps were needed to become an astronomer: passion, as motivation for learning; plan, for the long learning journey ahead; and perseverance, to finish what was started.

He noted that, in the Philippines, astronomy relied heavily on decreasing government funding and support from the private sector and “most of the time, astronomy seems irrelevant to society.”

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But Dr. Kevin Govender, director of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development, belied the view that astronomy was irrelevant to society. He said it actually “stimulates development in all levels” through technological innovations and better understanding of the universe.

“Science is about refining our understanding,” Govender said. “Human knowledge changes. That’s science, that’s knowledge; it changes.”

Pluto’s ‘killers’

Govender quipped, “We, in the IAU, are the ones who killed Pluto.”

Pluto was once listed as the ninth planet in Earth’s solar system. IAU reclassified it as a dwarf planet and removed it from the list of planets orbiting the sun.

He said astronomy “teaches you how to think. It stretches your mind. It stretches your imagination.”

Govender highlighted some of IAU’s cornerstone projects around the world: Developing Astronomy Globally, 100 Hours Astronomy, Galilean Nights, Earth to the Universe, World Heritage, Awareness Cornerstone Project, Galileo Scope, Portal to the Universe, Cosmic Diary, She Is an Astronomer, Galileo Teacher Training Program and UNAWE.

Sese presented some opportunities that professional and amateur astronomers could pursue. They could specialize in optical astronomy, radio astronomy, modeling and simulations, and data mining.

Govender added that some experts in astronomy also worked in other fields like banking and finance.

The two astronomers encouraged everyone to maximize the use of available information about the universe. Millions of data from space missions to major telescope findings, they said, were available on the Internet for free.

“Because of the easy access to this information, some of the biggest findings and discoveries recently are actually by young astronomers,” Sese said.

Realizing students might see astronomy as unprofitable, Sese encouraged them by saying, “If you’re really passionate about astronomy, just go for it.”

Arturo C. Carballo Jr., senior operations manager of NFSDC, said the event showed “how a developing country can benefit from this kind of science.”

Representatives from the Department of Science and Technology and partners of NFSDC, Sagittarius Mines Inc. and Vibal Publishing, also attended the event.

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TAGS: astronomy, International Astronomical Union, seminar
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