My UAE: Yousif Marhoon, astronomy enthusiast, has his head in the stars

A profile of Emirati astronomy enthusiast Yousif Marhoon.

Yousif Marhoon works at the Department of Transport, but has a passion for astronomy. Ravindranath K / The National
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Ever since he was young, Yousif Marhoon has been reaching for the stars.

After watching a certain science fiction film about three decades ago (see below), the 37-year-old Emirati has been fascinated by astronomy, so much so that he wanted to make it his profession.

"When I graduated from high school, I applied to continue my education in the United States," says Marhoon. "But I wanted to take astronomy; the guy behind the desk said: 'What's that?' And I said: 'Space science.' And he said: 'What do we need space science for?'"

Sadly, his application was rejected. Instead, he went to Higher Colleges of Technology in Dubai, where he has lived all his life, and is now the applications and solutions development manager for the Department of Transport in Abu Dhabi, ensuring that all the computer programs, both internally and externally, run smoothly.

But he never gave up on his starry-eyed dream; the father-of-two is the co-founder of the Dubai Astronomy Group. "We have about 1,000 members. We're trying to promote space science and stargazing, and we have all the equipment for that. I've become a professional amateur."

Indeed, the group is serious about its astronomy; it recently purchased a telescope worth more than Dh100,000 to count among its other expensive equipment, and about 600 people showed up to a recent meteor-shower viewing in the desert.

But celestial bodies aren't the only things that interest Marhoon; when he's not got his eyes to the skies, he balances his self-admitted geekiness on top of two wheels.

"The other weekends I go out with friends on the motorbike. We go to Oman and around the UAE camping. So, science and adventure; these are my things.

"But the science is a bit more expensive than the motorbikes."

What’s your favourite book?

I like reading books on science and business, but my favourite is The Magic of Thinking Big. It opens my mind on how to manage people, how to talk to yourself when you're facing challenges.

What object can you not live without?

Can I have two? My motorcycle and my telescope.

Favourite restaurant?

I have two, actually. One is the Carluccio’s and the other is Texas Roadhouse, both in The Dubai Mall. The pizza is just awesome, and the steak; ah, my God, it’s so tender!

Favourite music?

Pink Floyd! I’ve got T-shirts, stickers on my car; it’s all there, man. The first time I heard David Gilmour play his guitar, it sounded like it came from space. And the lyrics, they don’t make sense, but at the end of the day they do.

Who do you admire the most?

For leadership, I think Erwin Rommel, the Germany Second World War general. The way he turned around a losing battle, and managed his troops and tactics, was amazing. Even Allied commanders admired him.

Where would you like to travel that you haven’t been yet?

I really want to go to New Zealand; it’s something I’m planning to do. The southern island, it’s very remote and still so natural. Maybe it’s because I’m living in the city, I want to go out to a quiet place; no internet, just nature.

What’s your favourite film?

Star Wars, the original one; it’s what really got me interested in astronomy in the first place.

How do you like to unwind?

I like to get far out of the city and have a campfire, just sit and stare at it all night. Of course, I like to have my friends around me then, too.

Describe your style

When I’m on holiday in Europe, I just wear a T-shirt and shorts – unless it’s cold, of course. I just like to be relaxed.

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