Meet Rashid Nafwa and Vincent Okoth, students from the Technical University of Kenya (TUK) working with the telescope at TBI Ileret. Rashid and Vincent are completing an attachment to meet their final year requirements of gaining practical experience. 

Vincent Okoth and Rashid Nafwa preparing for a night of observations

Astronomy in general is underdeveloped in Kenya, and historically the focus has been on radio astronomy, this means that there are limited opportunities for student experience, especially in cosmology and optical astronomy. Both Rashid and Vincent have been using machine learning in their final year thesis, for searching for extraterrestrial intelligence and for classification of gravitational waves such as those from black holes, respectively. Astronomy is exciting in its own right, but it also teaches students many transferable skills relevant to cutting edge technologies that will be critical in the 21st century. 

While at Ileret, Vincent and Rashid have been working with the DART – Optik project, led by Professor Colin Snodgrass and a team from Edinburgh University, in partnership with Professor Paul Baki from Technical University Kenya. This work has included directly observing the moment a NASA spacecraft purposefully collided with the Didymos asteroid system in the world’s first planetary defense test (DART). This event also brought participants from the Kenya Space Agency and the Kenya Optical Telescope Initiative to Ileret.  

Representatives from Edinburgh University, Technical University Kenya, the Turkana Basin Institute and the Kenya Space Agency. (Photo credit: Richard Vaughan, Kenya Optical Telescope Initiative)

In addition to observing the DART impact, both students are working on their own independent projects using the newly installed 0.4m telescope. Rashid will be studying exoplanet transits, gathering information about distant planets by observing the changing light levels of distance stars. Vincent’s principle focus will be to complete a site analysis, to ascertain the quality of the night sky and observing conditions in Ileret. While conducting this work they are also observing binary stars, distant galaxies and star clusters. 

Vincent Okoth and Rashid Nafwa setting up the Telescope with Jamie Robinson from Edinburgh University

In future, both Vincent and Rashid are interested in furthering their studies in astronomy, by advancing through to Masters and PhDs as the opportunities to do so arise. We’re really excited to have them here in Ileret, as Kenyan pioneers of optical astronomy research conducted in the country!