The International Astronomical Union has honored Senegalese astronomer Maram Kairé by naming an asteroid in the solar system after him. 42-year-old Kairé, who was recognized for his commitment to promoting astronomy in schools, universities and communities, said he was humbled by the honor.
Until now, the asteroid that bears his name was simply numbered 35462 1998 DW 23. It was discovered in 1998 by French astronomer Alain Maury and is part of the main belt of celestial bodies orbiting the Sun, between the planets Mars and Jupiter. This celestial body makes “a complete orbit around the sun in 4.36 earth years,” reports said.
With the renaming of the asteroid in his honor, Kairé has become the very first Senegalese to enjoy such a distinction, according to APA News. “Beyond my name, it is the whole of Senegal that is honored. Generation after generation, when this asteroid is studied by the world’s scientific community, Senegal’s name will be in the minds of the world. And that’s the most important thing,” said Kairé, who has received congratulatory messages from different countries.
Senegalese President Macky Sall in a congratulatory message said it was the pride of Senegal, adding that “the government will be at his side in the promotion of astronomy.” Kairé’s colleague and Senegal’s former Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Mary Teuw Niane said: “From now on the name of Maram Kaïré floats in the Sky, standard bearer of Senegal and Africa.”
Born in Senegal’s capital Dakar in 1978, Kairé’s passion for astronomy began at the age of 12 through reading. One of his favorite books was Patience in azure, by astrophysicist Hubert Reeves. Growing up, Kairé would spend his evenings observing the sky when, according to him, it was much clearer and less polluted by light. He started making his first telescope when he was 14. Kairé said he understood from the start that this was what he wanted to do with his life, but his parents were not convinced.
“It was misunderstood,” he recalled in an interview. “People associated astronomy with meteorology, there was mockery, people who said: ‘you look at the stars, you are going to go crazy’ …And here in Senegal, it was not taught at all, so after the baccalaureate, we had to make a compromise with my parents and especially my father.” Kairé’ and his parents settled on IT. He followed it up with studies in systems and network engineering in France.
When he returned to his country Senegal in 2006, his main aim was to help young people find courses and infrastructure linked to astronomy on site. Thus, he created ASPA, the Senegalese Association for the Promotion of Astronomy, which has held conferences in schools, workshops, organized festivals, among others. The objective of these activities is to promote astronomy to the public and create vocations.
Kairé, who recently led two missions for NASA in his country, is of the firm belief that “space is a lever for development.”
“For education and distance education, tele-medicine, agriculture, satellite data is a major issue,” said the Senegalese scientist who is calling for “a significant introduction” of space science in his country’s education system.
Niane, Kairé’s former colleague at the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, is also urging the Senegalese government to complete the projects that Kairé was responsible for such as the astronomical observatory, the planetarium, the Center for the construction of micro satellites and in particular the Senegalese Astronomical Agency.