2023 Video In-Depth Reporting - Gold

In a film that explores the heritage and future of African astronomy, from prehistoric ruins to Islamic skywatchers, it is NASA’s current Lucy spacecraft that drives the narrative and the dreams of visionary Senegalese astronomer Maram Kaire. The spacecraft is on a mission to fly by a series of asteroids to help scientists better understand the birth of our solar system. Although Lucy’s flightpath has been calculated precisely, the flight team relies on events called “stellar occultations” to fine tune the spacecraft’s close encounters. Kaire’s team in West Africa is shown preparing to record a stellar occultation to provide crucial support for the NASA mission. But Kaire’s goals go well beyond the NASA mission. “I believe space is for everyone,” he tells the filmmakers. “I have a much more challenging mission here on Earth, to build a space agency in Senegal. I must prove to my people that science can change their lives.” For Kaire, that begins with helping his community to understand astronomy’s deep roots in their culture, roots that Kaire discovered go back even further than he realized. In the holy city of Touba, a family of traditional Muslims demonstrate how they use ancient methods to build sundials for the timing of daily prayers. In Istanbul, once the hub of Islamic science, Kaire sees rare, centuries-old astronomy texts the family may have consulted. As for the high-stakes observation of a stellar occultation ― an event that lasts just 3.2 seconds ― Kaire’s team successfully records it. Judge Michael Werner, a documentary filmmaker, said “Star Chasers of Senegal” is a “beautifully filmed, heartfelt journey into the lives of African astronomers. The project stands out for its meticulous craftsmanship and its focus on a community that is often underrepresented in the realm of science.” Ruth Berry, writer and director of the film, said: “Winning this prestigious AAAS Kavli award means a great deal to me and to all of our team, but especially to Maram whose dream is now coming true. He has recently been appointed the Director General of the Senegal's new ‘Agency for Space Studies.’”