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SPACE TRAVEL
Ethiopia sets sights on stars with space program
by Staff Writers
Addis Ababa (AFP) Oct 22, 2013


Peru air force brings back its UFO probe team
Lima (AFP) Oct 19, 2013 - Peru's air force has said it is reviving a department to research anomalous aerial phenomena -- in other words, UFO sightings.

For people "who observe seemingly unconventional phenomena, which cause surprise or concern, know that there is an institution that will study and research your information," Colonel Julio Vucetich said in remarks published Saturday.

The Department of Investigation of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena, or DIFAA, will bring together sociologists, archaeologists and astronomers, as well as air force personnel, to analyze how often these events occur, where and what times, Vucetich said, according to the official Andina news agency.

DIFAA was first created in 2001, but it had been closed down five years ago due to administrative problems. Similar agencies exist in regional neighbors, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

Peru's office is now being reopened because of "increased sightings that are occurring in the country and that people are reporting to media," Vucetich said.

According to media reports, residents of the town of Marabamba, in the central Andes, this week saw luminous objects in the sky over several days.

Ethiopia unveiled Friday 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 astronomical telescope is mainly intended for astronomy and astrophysics observation research," said observatory director Solomon Belay.

The observatory, which will formally be opened on Saturday, boasts two telescopes, each one metre (over three feet) wide, to see "extra planets, different types of stars, the Milky Way, and deep galaxies," Solomon added.

The 3.4 million dollar (2.5 million euro) observatory, run by the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS), is funded by Ethiopian-Saudi business tycoon Mohammed Alamoudi.

The observatory, 3,200 metres (10,500 feet) above sea level in the lush Entoto mountains on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, is an ideal location because of its minimal cloud cover, moderate winds and low humidity, experts said.

When established in 2004, ESSS was labelled 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 set to launch a space policy in coming years.

Solomon said the group originally faced sceptics 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 key to the development in Ethiopia, today one of Africa's fastest growing economies largely based on agriculture.

"If the economy is strongly linked with science, then we can transform a poor way of agriculture into industrialisation and into modern agriculture," he said.

The ESSS is now looking to open a second observatory 4,200 metres (13,800 feet) above sea level in the mountainous northern town of Lalibela, also the site of the largest cluster of Ethiopia's ancient rock-hewn churches.

Photographs from the ESSS show scientists with testing equipment looking for the best site to put the next telescope on the green and remote peaks, as local villagers wrapped in traditional white blankets watch on curiously, sitting outside their thatch hut homes.

Solomon hopes to boost "astronomy tourism" among space fans interested in coming to one of the least likely countries in the world to boast a space programme, an added economic benefit.

The country 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.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, has also called for a continent-wide space programme.

Solomon said while the next several years will be about boosting research and data collection, along with promoting a strong local and regional interest in astronomy, he is not ruling out sending an Ethiopian into space one day.

"Hopefully we will," he said with a laugh.

.


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