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The Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS) installed its first observatory at Entoto Mountain on Thursday October 24.
This project is the first phase of a space exploration programme, which includes East Africa’s largest observatory, designed to promote astronomy research in the region.
“The optical telescope is mainly intended for astronomy and astrophysics observation research,” said observatory Director, Solomon Belay.
The Observatory boasts two telescopes, each one meter wide, to perceive “extra planets, different types of stars, the Milky Way, and deeper galaxies,” Solomon added.
The USD 3.4 million Observatory run by the ESSS is funded by Ethio-Saudi business tycoon Mohammed Hussien Al Amoudi.
The Observatory is located 3,200 meters above sea level on the lush Entoto Mountain on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, and is an ideal location because of its minimal cloud cover, moderate winds and low humidity, experts said.
When established in 2004, ESSS was labeled as the “Crazy People’s Club”, according to the group, but has gained credibility in the past decade with astronomy courses introduced at universities and winning increased political support.
The Ethiopian government is also set to launch a space policy in the coming years.
Solomon said the group originally faced skeptics in Ethiopia and abroad, who questioned whether space exploration was a wise use of resources in one of Africa’s poorest economies, plagued in the past by chronic famine and unrest.
But Solomon said promoting science is the key to development in Ethiopia, today one of Africa’s fastest growing countries, whose economy is largely based on agriculture.
“If the economy is strongly linked with science, then we can transform a poor way of farming into industrialization and modern agriculture,” he said.
The ESSS is now looking to open a second observatory 4,200 meters above sea level in the mountains of Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia.
Ethiopia will also launch its first satellite in the next three years, ESSS said, to study meteorology and boost telecommunications.
Ethiopia is not the first African nation to look to the skies; South Africa has its own National Space Agency, and in 2009 the African Union announced plans to establish The African Space Agency.