South Africa wins the right to host the 2024 IAU General Assembly

South Africa has won the bid to host the 2024 General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). It will be the first time this assembly is held on African soil in what will be the 105th year of existence of this prestigious global association of professional astronomers.

The decision was announced by the newly elected President of the IAU, Prof. Ewine van Dishoeck, at the association’s General Assembly currently under way in Vienna. The IAU was founded in 1919 with a mission to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. It has 12 557 individual members in 90 countries worldwide.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, congratulated the bid committee for their sterling work, saying the winning bid was proof that Africa was the next big hub for astronomy, with mega projects including the MeerKAT, Square Kilometre Array, African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network, Southern African Large Telescope, and HESS and HIRAX telescopes positioning the continent as a destination for cutting-edge multi-wavelength astronomy.

“I am delighted that the international community is recognising the investments and concerted efforts that South Africa has been making in growing the discipline of astronomy in Africa. We welcome this positive endorsement by the IAU and we will do our best to support the planning process to ensure that the 2024 IAU General Assembly in Cape Town will be a resounding success,” said Minister Kubayi-Ngubane.

“The award recognises the incredible strides that African astronomy has taken in recent years,” the Minister added. “The occasion will give voice to Africa in the global astronomical endeavour, and will bring attention to the excellent science and education conducted on the continent. The opportunity for many African astronomers to take part in one of the world’s biggest astronomy meetings will contribute to an enduring legacy of astronomy on the continent.”

Held every three years, the IAU General Assembly is the biggest international meeting of the astronomy community and relevant to policy makers in this discipline. The last General Assembly, which was attended by more than 3 000 participants, took place in Hawaii in 2015. The next General Assembly will be held in South Korea in 2021, followed by Cape Town in 2024.

“The support for the bid, not only from astronomers but also from industry, academic institutions and government, has been phenomenal, and its success is a testament to what we can accomplish through our united efforts,” said Dr Shazrene Mohamed, a member of the bid committee and an astrophysicist working at the South African Astronomical Observatory and the University of Cape Town.

“For astronomers, this is like winning the bid to host a Football World Cup or the Olympics. It’s time for Africa! We are excited and look forward to welcoming our colleagues from around the world to the first of hopefully many IAU General Assemblies on African soil,” said Dr Mohamed.

The continent has a long and rich relationship with astronomy. The world recognised the unique geographical importance of Africa in astronomy almost two centuries ago with the establishment in 1820 of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Since then, Africa’s contributions to global human knowledge have grown from strength to strength, both independently and collaboratively.

In April 2011, South Africa was chosen as the host of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), which was set up in partnership with the National Research Foundation, an entity of the Department of Science and Technology, to further the use of astronomy as a tool for development.

In addition to the bid award, the incoming IAU President also bestowed a special inaugural award on Dr Carolina Ödman for her outstanding work in astronomy outreach and education. Dr Ödman, an astronomer based in Cape Town, is associated with the South African Astronomical Observatory, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences and the IAU-OAD.