Friday, October 24, 2014

Astronomy can help develop poor countries

Why should a developing nation such as Brazil invest in Astronomy while there is still poverty in the country? Because Astronomy is key to fight poverty and improve lives.

Countries that invest less in science have more human poverty. Figure by Jorge Meléndez based on

Astronomy is THE interdisciplinary science per excellence. It is based on physics and maths, but it can also involve other areas such as chemistry, meteorology, geology, biology, history and archeology; it has also a strong technological component, as advanced technology is required to built large telescopes and state-of-the-art instrumentation. Astronomy can greatly contribute to improve education at different levels, helping students to interconnect apparently unrelated areas. More importantly, Astronomy fascinate children, being thus an excellent vehicle for introducing them to science and technology, which are fundamental to develop a country.

Soccer is a national passion in Brazil, where soccer players are celebrities. It is OK to follow soccer as a career, but certainly a country needs other role models besides soccer players. We urgently need inspiring role models in science, we need successful scientists performing cutting-edge science. If we aspire to make major discoveries, we certainly need appropriate facilities. Brazilian astronomers were very excited back in 2010, when Brazil signed an agreement to join ESO, the largest and more productive observatory on Earth; unfortunately, Brazilian authorities are taking too long to ratify it.

The Southern sky as seen from Brazil. (c) Babak Tafreshi
An example of how astronomical discoveries can promote science in Brazil, was the oldest solar twin identified by an international team led by Brazilian astronomers in 2013. An important implication is that it helped to solve the lithium mystery in the Sun. The news was highlighted both internationally and nationally, with more than 100 local media reporting the discovery. A local competition made to "name" the oldest solar twin, received almost one thousand entries, showing thus an important impact. Other recent exciting finding by Brazilian astronomers was the discovery of rings around an asteroid, known previously only around giant planets. Another example by a developing country is the recent successful Indian space mission to Mars, showing how great science achievements can be a matter of national pride.

Brazil's exports are mainly primary mineral and agricultural products. We need more than just exporting coffee and bananas to develop a country. The development of technology in Brazil is way behind other countries; most high tech products are either imported or just assembled here. We need to invest heavily in education, science and technology, and Astronomy can help to educate our children, and stimulate our most talented minds to follow careers in science and technology.

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