Senegalese watch the stars

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French and American scientists brought telescopes into the African desert
The plans are part of Emerging Senegal, the development strategy of President Macky Sall.

tomas Munita for The New York Times
NASA’s New Horizons team set out for Senegal to catch a momentary sighting of a rock orbiting beyond Pluto. Outside Dakar, the team gave residents a look at the heavens.

When Salma Sila was a girl, she tried to escape from the heat of Senegal, going to sleep on the roof of her house. Restless and overheated, she would lie awake and stare at the stars.

The area where she lived outside of Dakar, the capital, had no electricity, and the sky glittered. She tried to count the stars, realizing that she had more than any other night.

Salma Sila, now 37, recalls how intrigued she was.

But studying the stars in Senegal is not easy: high school courses are limited, in libraries there is only a few books about the universe, telescopes are rare and expensive.

The Force recalls that her grandmother had said that the stars were darkened some nights, so that hunters could sneak into the animals for animals. But she knew she had to find out the true truth about what was happening in heaven. She combined, as far as possible, studies at Senegalese institutions with those abroad.

Almost nothing has changed since the time she was a little girl; The astronomical offer is limited to Senegalese universities.

However, officials are hoping to change this within their mission to improve knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by strengthening programs at universities and building a research center.

The plans are part of Emerging Senegal, the development strategy of President Macky Sall, which includes plans for the planetarium.

His plans have recently received an incentive when Senegal hosted more than thirty scientists from the United States and France who are part of the NASA’s New Horizons program.

The scientists scattered across the country hoping to notice the shadow cast by an ancient rock that revolves around Pluto as it passes in front of a shining star.

The observation was supposed to help the team prepare for the moment when the “New Horizons” spacecraft will pass along Ultima Tula (Out of the Famous World) for the New Year.

This is the farthest exploration of anything in space,” said Alan Stern, project leader for NASA’s “New Horizons” mission. We are far away, far away.

By Senegal, scientists came to the process of elimination. The areas that offered the best view are actually in the Atlantic Ocean. Other options, such as those in neighboring Mali, have fallen because these areas are patrolled by extremists.

The parts of Senegal have no electricity and are not densely populated. It was a bonus for scientists who searched for the clear sky without the influence of light.

Senegal was nevertheless a risky proposition. Clouds threatened to prevent an event that took place on August 4 and lasted less than a second.

Scientists continue to study the data collected on that occasion, but the sky was clear and hoped to come up with some discovery.

Senegal was actually a very enthusiastic host.

Twenty of Senegalese scientists and astronomers, including Salmo Silu, who is now the first Doctor of Astronomy at Sheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, was following the team of “New Horizons” on the ground.

Other African countries have accumulated their own achievements in space. Moroccan astronomers have discovered comets, asteroids, and planets outside our solar system. The first satellite of Ghana is now circling the Earth. Students in Tunisia have organized public observations of the sky.

Astronomy is popular in Africa as elsewhere in the world,

says David Baru, chairman of the African Planetary Sciences and Space Initiative, headquartered in France.

The biggest obstacle is money. The United States spends more on its space program than the total value of the entire Senegalese economy.

The twenty-one powerful telescope purchased by the New Horizons team is almost double the number of all telescopes throughout Senegal.

The New Horizons team hopes that telescopes in Senegal and several of them in Colombia, with the help of Huubble, will answer questions about what is called Ultima Tula before their aircraft arrives.

Is it a shape of potatoes or are they actually two bodies that circle around one another?

On the night of the observation, Dijara Dijeng, a student of applied physics in Dakar, knitted something down the NASA telescope worth $ 3,500.

This is incredible,

she said, trying to direct the telescope to a real star.

Instructors at her gymnasium encouraged her to deal with science, but she was initially rather skeptical.

I did not believe I could deal with this,

she says.

NASA’s team distributed through the conference center’s lawn to deal with any problems with equipment before watching. The biggest problem was when someone accidentally included sprinklers.

Scientists were able to see Saturn and Mars at everyone at that time at nearby parking. Students who study astronomy through online courses have come to a standstill. Fathers brought little children to find out.

Minister of Higher Education Mary Teuv Nijana was also there.

“Mmm” – that was all that a woman could say, shaking her head in disbelief.