End of Year Message from the OAD, December 2020

10 December 2020

Dear friends,

Astronomy is said to be a powerful field because it brings us perspective of our humble place in this grand and beautiful universe. As such it carries the potential to unite human beings “Under One Sky” – to help us put aside our differences and connect more with each other by looking to the stars, together! There are other things in the world that unite us. We have seen that when faced with a common hardship or a shared pain (in this case the global pandemic and its effects), people are able to come together in the face of adversity, like never before. It has been a year defined by sickness, death and fear on the one hand; but at the same time, incredible courage, strength and caring on the other.

Sadly this unity has not been universal, and many people seem to have united only in smaller groups – in “echo chambers” – where, in the worst cases, some groups have brought people together only in order to rally them against others. We have seen deep fractures in some societies and have been shocked at how country borders, created by humans and invisible from space, have strengthened through a surge of nationalist thinking. For example, even as we celebrate the good news of the rollout of an effective COVID-19 vaccine, we also wonder about who will get it first – which countries will focus only inwards, and which countries will be left out ? Thus, COVID-19 may not have succeeded in bringing everyone together after all.


These challenges, combined with the economic impacts of the pandemic, an increasing number of climate related disasters, and a dangerously rapid spread of misinformation, all highlight more than ever the importance of each of us as individuals, as teams, as organisations, to roll up our virtual sleeves and explore how we can contribute to making the world a better place!

We must continue our efforts as a global astronomy community to apply all aspects of our field to address the challenges facing society.

We must use our skills, our technologies, our perspectives, to inspire positive change in society. Importantly, we must find more ways to translate the love for the stars into love for each other. It is not an impossible task and it is one that continues to be as important as ever.

From everyone at the OAD, we are deeply grateful to the many people who have worked with us during 2020 towards achieving the vision of Astronomy for a Better World! We wish you and all those around you strength, resilience and courage to successfully overcome the challenges you may be facing. May the exploration of the universe bring us all closer together!

We recently produced a video on the amazing work our community is carrying out globally. As we say in the video, “there is possibly no greater resource on the planet than the human mind. If we are able to figure out what is going on millions of lightyears away, then surely we must remain optimistic that we can prevail over challenges here on planet Earth”. I hope you find it inspiring. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCB-TEgMQdA&feature=emb_title

On behalf of the OAD:
Kevin Govender,
Director, Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD)