Dubai looks to the stars as Dh50 million Astronomy Centre to open next month

Enduring appeal of the desert night sky leads to new plans for stargazing camps

Hasan Al Harriri founder of the Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre. Dubai 16.02.17 Anna Nielsen for The National
 *** Local Caption ***  16.02.17_Hasan Al Harriri _NIELSEN_03.JPG
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Dubai’s Dh50m astronomy observatory will open next month and a landmark astronomy resort in the Marmoun desert is planned for next year, as the city seeks to tap into an enduring fascination with the stars that draw in old and young alike.

After some delays, construction of Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre is complete and a soft opening is expected in September 15. The grand opening will be on National Day, December 2.

The centre will be home to a telescope with a one metre diametre mirror. First announced two years ago, it will have an academy with classrooms and labs, an outside observation deck, a 100-seat theatre an astronomy shop, a cafe and an library. The 2,696 square building located in Al Mushrif Park will have landscaped gardens in the shapes of constellations. Construction began in 2015.

The Dubai Astronomy Group currently has 7,000 general members and is in the process of recruiting 40 new employees for the new centre. The centre will be educate the public on the Mars 2117 Project, a national plan to build a city on Mars in one hundred years.

“Thuraya will be a place where everyone to come and meet together,” said Hasan Al Hariri, the centre’s director and chief executive of the Dubai Astronomy Group. “It’s going to have lots of places where people come and enjoy themselves and create a road map to Mars.

“Our Sheikh Mohammed has given us a mandate to go to Mars 2117 to build a Mars city so we want to pave the road for that. Our Sheikh Mohammed he is a very visionary man and when he says something like that it means we have to develop ourselves, we have to come up to do something which is beyond normal people. We have to go to Mars.”


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Mr Al Hariri envisions a Mars camp at the observatory that stimulates life on the Red Planet.

“We want to give people the chance to live on Mars. They will have no atmosphere, they will have no food, they will have no soil. They will have to prepare everything for themselves.”

Planning has already begun on the next project, the Marmoun Astronomy Resort, a dark sky reserve 40 km away from the city so that tourists and researchers can observe the skies in complete darkness. The municipality has designated land, said Mr Al Hariri.

“We want to make it an astronomy resort so people can come throughout the year and enjoy the beautiful sky,” he said. “We are anticipating my 2018 we will have this available. At the moment it’s on the drawing board in collaboration with the municipality. We hope that to finalise it this year so we can start construction early next year.”

The next project will be an observatory in the Hatta mountains, with a tentative 2019 opening.


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Mr Al Hariri was speaking on the sidelines of a desert viewing of the Perseids meteor shower in Marmoun desert south of Dubai.

An estimated 500 people came out to a free talk and sightings on the Perseids hosted by the Dubai Astronomy at Al Mushrif Park. On Saturday night, about 40 people came to a closed event. There has been a growing interested in astronomy with the growing popularity of photography.

Mr Al Hariri’s 12-year-old daughter, Amna, helped visitors take photographs of the ringed planet Saturn through a 23cm telescopeusing iPhones.

The annual meteor shower is one of the most popular events in the celestial calendar but this year’s meteors were outshone by a three quarter moon that rose over the eastern horizon shortly after 10pm. Only a handful of meteors were visible but there will be another chance to watch meteors at the Leonids meteor shower in November and the Geminid meteor shower in December.

Al Hariri spoke about constellations, traditional navigation and stories learnt from his grandmother.

“She used to tell us, ‘don’t switch on the air conditioning. Go sit outside. Live in nature. Touch and feel nature. Then you will be good, healthy’.”

By his grandmother’s measure, Saturday’s gathering was a success.