World Wide Development in Astronomy (WWDA) Visit to Brunei Darussalam

Report by Boonrucksar Soonthornthum, National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, Ministry of Science & Technology, Thailand

Source: IAU Information Bulletin 109 (Download)

Background Information

Brunei Darussalam is a small Kingdom in South-East Asia located on the northern shore of the island of Borneo. The state’s major industry on petroleum makes Brunei Darussalam a prosperous and progressive country, with a population of approximately 400,000 (July 2010). Brunei has the second highest Human Development Index among South East Asia nations, after Singapore, and is classified as a Developed Country.

Boonrucksar Soonthornthum visited Brunei Darussalam during July 13-19, 2011 and Hakim Malasan, during July 16-19, 2011, with the following objectives:

  • To introduce the roles of South-East Asian countries for promoting and supporting the missions of World Wide Development in Astronomy (WWDA)
  • To introduce the recent development of Astronomy in South-East Asia especially the initiation of South-East Asian Astronomy Network (SEAAN) and the establishment of the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, which will serve as a national institute in astronomy in Thailand and one of the center for the international collaboration in astronomy in the South-East Asian countries
  • To promote the activity on the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) and encourage Brunei Darussalam to organise a national competition on Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad and send the national team to join the IOAA
  • To explore the astronomical activities organised in Brunei Darussalam, to promote astronomy to this country and to seek for the possible future collaboration both astronomy education and research

This visit to Brunei Darussalam was hosted by the Kolej Universiti Perguruan Ugama, Seri Begawan (KUPU SB) and the Faculty of Science, University of Brunei Darussalam (UBD).

• Visit to the Seri Begawan Religious Teaching University College, Kolej Universiti Perguruan Ugama, Seri Begawan (KUPU SB)

I was received by Dr. Haji Norarfan bin Haji Zainal, Assistant Ra’es of KUPU SB. On 14 July, we met with Prof Abdullah Awang Lampoh, the Deputy Rector, and staff of KUPU SB. I gave a presentation on the IAU and explained how the PGWWDA and related programme groups such as TAD, ISYA and EA can help to promote and develop astronomy and conversely: how South-East Asian countries can support IAU and PGWWDA to achieve their missions. I also presented the establishments of the South-East Asian Astronomy Network (SEAAN) and the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT) and convinced them to join.

KUPU SB does not yet offer any course in astronomy and has no faculty staff who can teach astronomy. As a university focuses on religious and teacher education, it is possible that astronomy can be introduced at the university as a general astronomy course for teachers and astronomy course which include contents in Islamic Astronomy and History in Astronomy.

• Visit to the University of Brunei Darussalam (UBD)

My visit to the UBD on 15 July was hosted by Prof Dato Haji Mohamed Abdul Majid, Dean of the Faculty of Science of UBD. We met with his Deputy Deans, Dr. Pg.Mohd. Iskandar Pg.Hj.Petra and Dr.Jose H.Santos. I gave a similar presentation to that given at KUPU SB concerning the IAU and PGWWDA, the establishment of SEAAN and NARIT. The Faculty of Science of UBD has about 30 undergraduate students majoring in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Information Technology. Like KUPU SB, the UBD does not offer any course in astronomy and has no faculty staff in astronomy. They are interested in joining astronomical activities with SEAAN and hope to have an astronomy course or astronomical research offers at the Faculty of Science in the future.

From the discussion, it emerged that UBD would like to explore the possibility of sending some of their 3rd or 4th -year Physics students to be trained in astronomy and astronomical instrumentation at NARIT in Thailand. It was agreed that NARIT and UBD will discuss this further. Since the regional observatory for publics of NARIT in the Southern Thailand, which is close to Brunei, will be constructed in Songkla Province by the end of 2011, it can be visited by UBD staffs and students as well as related institutes in Brunei.

I also visited the undergraduate Physics Laboratory of the Faculty of Science, UBD. There are a number of small telescopes (about 20 refracting telescopes with diameters of 2-4 inches) which are used for telescope‟s alignment teaching but not much for the astronomical observation purpose.

• The Visit at Astronomical Society of Negara Brunei Darussalam

On 16 July, I visited the Astronomical Society of Negara Brunei Darussalam; in Malay: Persatuan Astronomi Negara Brunei Darussalam or PABD. My visit was hosted by Mr. Julalhi Hj. Zamal, Vice President, Mr. Hazarry Hj. Ali Ahmad, Secretary, Pg. Shahdani Bin Pg. Anom, Assistant Secretary, Dr. Ratna Suria Pg. Dato Hj. Hamzad, Treasurer and Ms.Salmah Binti Hj. Muhammad from Ministry of Education, member of PABD.

PABD was officially registered in 2003. It is a non-profit organisation managed by an executive committee. Its objectives are

  • to promote and encourage astronomy especially Islamic astronomy for Brunei Darussalam
  • to channel information on issues relating to astronomy
  • to advise and give consultation relating to astronomy
  • to organise astronomical related activities
  • to facilitate and disseminate knowledge and information in all aspects of astronomy

PABD has four categories of membership that are open to residents of Brunei Darussalam: ordinary, student, corporate and honorary. PABD organises activities such as sidewalk astronomy, eclipse watching and new moon watching, etc. Information on its current activities is available through its website.

I presented PABD the information about IAU, PGWWDA, SEAAN and NARIT. They are interested in becoming the individual members of the IAU but unfortunately that there is still no professional astronomer at all in the country. I invite them to join the SEAAN where they can participate in astronomical activities with the South-East Asian countries, eg. NARIT, ITB etc. PABD can also organise trips to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia to experience some astronomical infrastructures and activities of those countries. Through the internet, PABD can access some facilities of NARIT especially the regional observatory for publics in Songkla (Southern Province of Thailand).

• Public Lectures in Astronomy at KUPU SB

On 18 July, the Seri Begawan Religious Teaching University College, Kolej Universiti Perguruan Ugama Seri Begawan (KUPU SB), in collaboration with the Astronomy Unit, Survey Department, Ministry of Development organised a programme of Al-Ihya Al-Diniyyah outreach “Islamic Astronomy and Astronomy Education Convention” with a theme of Education and the Development of Astronomy and Astronomy Syar‟ie. The Minister of Religious Affairs of Brunei presided over the opening ceremony and participated on the public lectures. There were over a hundred audiences on this seminar.

Three public lectures in astronomy were presented: – “Islamic Astronomy,” Baharuddin Zainal , Universiti Islam Sultan Zainal Abidin, Malaysia – “Space Science Education and Research,” Boonrucksar Soonthornthum, Director of Research of the National Institute of Thailand – “Importance of Study Astronomy,” Hakim Malasan, Director of Bosscha Observatory, Bandung, Indonesia In addition, the convention also held astronomy and space science exhibitions and sky-watching activities at night in collaboration with the Astronomical Unit, Department of Survey and the Astronomical Society of Brunei.

I am informed by KUPU SB that the Minister of Religious has now assigned KUPU SB to open an astronomy course in the undergraduate programme.

• Visit to the Survey Department, Ministry of Development

On 16 July, Hakim Malasan and I visited the Survey Department, Ministry of Development. Our visit was hosted by Mohd Jamil Ali, Surveyor General and staff of the Astronomy Unit of the Survey Department which is in charge by Mahadi Tahir, Senior Surveyor and Haji Julaihi Bin Haji Lamat, Surveyor. A moon sighting station under the operation of the Astronomy Unit is located at Bukit Agok (Latitude 4º 54′ 50″.9 N, Longitude 114º 47′ 12″.7 E) at the altitude of 105 meters above the mean sea level. Small telescopes, binocular and theodolites are used for observations. A new observatory with a 40-cm RC telescope and 5-meter diameter dome is planned to build at the moon sighting station at Bukit Agok. At present, two students are studying astronomy at undergraduate level in U.K. After graduation, they will be back to work at the Survey Department.

Comments

There are several positive signs for the development of astronomy in Brunei Darussalam. Astronomy is currently introduced through Islamic astronomy, and there is significant public interest in astronomy. With more support and follow up by the IAU and other countries, I believe that astronomy will be well established in the near future. Our suggestions are as follows:

  • To introduce TAD programme to universities: KUPU SB and UBD
  • To encourage Brunei Darussalam to join the South-East Asia Astronomy Network (SEAAN)
  • To encourage Brunei Darussalam to join with Malaysia and Indonesia on the “Moon Sighting Observations”
  • To give opportunities to students and staff in the universities to join the IAU international astronomy conference, seminar and school ie: ISYA, APRIM etc.

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