DOST-PAGASA – Southeast Asian countries reveal the latest astronomy studies and developments in their respective countries as they convene in Manila for the 13th Southeast Asia Astronomy Network Meeting (SEAAN 2023).
SEAAN 2023 was attended by representatives coming from member nations Brunei, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, and Myanmar, hosted by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT).
With the theme “Radio Astronomy Development in Southeast Asia,” the assembly aims to discuss the future and developments of radio astronomy in the region, along with the experts in astronomy and astrophysics and foster new collaboration among member countries.
The country representative for the Philippines shared the initiatives of DOST-PAGASA in astronomy development during the meeting, including the National Time Consciousness Week and 30th National Astronomy Week.
Free planetarium shows and telescoping and stargazing sessions were also offered to the public during the Global Astronomy Month, World Space Week 2023, and Dark and Quiet Skies event, Rosario C. Ramos, chief of Space Science and Astronomy Section of DOST-PAGASA said.
She also cited the advantage of media collaboration for the increased number of participants during World Space Week 2023.
“In the planetarium, we usually have 100 or 200 visitors per day but during this time, we had more than a thousand visitors because of the media collaboration,” she said on 28 November 2023.
The two astronomical facility projects under DOST-PAGASA are also set to be completed before the year ends, Ramos said, namely Mindanao Regional Planetarium in Misamis Oriental and Visayas Regional Planetarium in Cebu.
Meanwhile, Saran Poshyachinda, executive director of NARIT, said that since 2009, 2.6 million people have been served by the research institute, while more than 600 thousand people joined their activities from October 2022 to September this year.
Among the developments in their country are the 2.4-meter telescope located on the highest mountain in the country, Doi Inthanon, and the 40-m radio telescope that can operate up to 115 gigahertz, located outside the city of Chiang Mai; while they also operate telescopes in Chile, US, China, and Australia, he said.
“We’re now developing many things in-house, including spectrographs and microwave receivers, as well as some state-of-the-art optical instruments,” Poshyachinda added.
He also shared the two major research facilities in Thailand: the Thai National Observatory and the Thai National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which would start its full-sized operation in January next year.
Regional observatories were also opened to the public as part of their outreach infrastructure, with Khon Kaen, which was opened in November.
Indonesia representative Hesti R T Wulandari, lecturer at the Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB), introduced two of their observatories as part of astronomy development in their country; including the institute’s Bosscha Observatory, which is now a national scientific heritage and is celebrating its centennial anniversary; and the National Astronomical Observatory in Timau, marking its 55% completion with the installation of its secondary mirror.
In terms of radio astronomy, Wulandari said they started with projects on small radio telescopes with students in 2008. She added that they are also planning for the conversion project of telecommunication antennas to radio telescopes, which still needs funding to materialize.
Wulandari added that Indonesia is also planning to build a radio telescope for the Timau National Observatory, and ITB is holding a collaboration with the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory for the installation of the VGOS (VLBI Global Observing System) Radio Telescope at the Bosscha Observatory.
“We really hope that collaboration among SEAAN countries can be strengthened in the coming years,” she said.
Telescope for All
Hazarry Haji Ali Ahmad, secretary general of The Astronomical Society of Brunei Darussalam, shared the developments in their country, including their astronomy outreach, offering the “Telescope for All: Making Space for All,” which introduced the telescope and the relevance of astronomy to the public, especially the underprivileged communities.
Ahmad also highlighted the advantage of high internet penetration in Brunei, which helped them promote astronomy on digital platforms and find opportunities for collaboration with other countries, as well as their contribution to the global development of Islamic Astronomy with their records of the new moon sighting observation.
However, the biggest challenge in Brunei is having no professional astronomers, as cited in the 10th SEAAN. But Ahmad is hopeful that the establishment of a national astronomy observatory would address this issue, which is set to materialize in five years.
Progress in Malaysia
Hasan Abu Kassim, professor at Universiti Malaya, also presented the astrophysics and astronomy progress in Malaysia, particularly the Malaysia Space Exploration 2030, which aims to explore the national space sector ecosystem and the return of the Global Malaysian Astronomies Convention 2023 after being postponed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics Research in Universiti Malaya also helped in the development of establishing a Radio Cosmology Research Laboratory focusing on cosmology and solar; an Optical Astronomy Research Laboratory for spectroscopy, photometry, and sighting of new moon; and a Theoretical Physics Research Group focusing on astrophysics, he added.
Kassim also shared the National Planetarium for STEM Promotion in Malaysia’s initiative to create a database of Malaysian astronomers to provide awareness to the public.