Emirati Thabet Al Qaissieh has built the Al Sadeem Observatory on his family’s farm in Al Wathba and is inviting the public to use the facility to further their understanding of astronomy and to promote the space sector amongst youth. Antonie Robertson / The National
Emirati Thabet Al Qaissieh has built the Al Sadeem Observatory on his family’s farm in Al Wathba and is inviting the public to use the facility to further their understanding of astronomy and to promoShow more

Love for the night sky leads Emirati to build the UAE’s first space observatory



ABU DHABI // The creation of the UAE’s first community observatory can be traced back to two men’s childhood passion for stargazing.

Located in Al Wathba, Al Sadeem (the Nebula in Arabic) Observatory is the brainchild of an Emirati businessman who fell in love with Al Ain’s night sky and a Filipino expat who studied the sky over the northern Ilocos region of the Philippines.

Childhood years spent in Al Ain in the 1980s deepened Thabet Al Qaissieh’s interest in astronomy. But it was not until 2015 that the 34-year-old decided to get an even closer look at the sky at the eventual site of the observatory.

“We have a farm in Al Wathba where I spend a lot of time in the winter. One night I was sitting by myself and the sky was very clear. I told myself that I should get a telescope,” Mr Al Qaissieh said.

His quest for advice on the perfect instrument led him to Alejandro Palado, 46, who founded the Abu Dhabi Astronomy Group when he moved to the capital in 2005.

Mr Palado, an amateur astronomer, was disappointed that there was no such group at the time.

“From my studies back home, I knew Arabs were one of the first practitioners of astronomy, so I was expecting Abu Dhabi to have lots of facilities and groups focused on the science,” he said.

With social media then in its infancy, Mr Palado had to rely on email groups and blogging sites to garner interest in his group. That proved to be slow going initially but it gathered pace in 2011 when he began staging viewing events.

When he was contacted for advice by Mr Al Qaissieh, who told him about his family farm, Mr Palado asked if he could visit with his telescope and take photos.

Mr Palado thought the farm would be ideal for stargazing and suggested to Mr Al Qaissieh that they build an observatory for the community.

“He [Mr Palado] told me there was a lot of interest in astronomy in Abu Dhabi but there wasn’t a place to bring people together,” said Mr Al Qaissieh.

Despite his hesitance over business commitments and the cost of building an observatory, Mr Al Qaissieh said he was convinced by his younger brother Mansour.

“He said, ‘Thabet, you’re not going to make money out of it but you will be giving so much to the community’.”

When Mansour died at 23 in August 2015, Mr Al Qaissieh put his observatory plan into action.

Eight months and Dh750,000 later, the Al Sadeem Observatory was opened last summer, complete with a dome that was custom-made in Poland and a 16-inch (406 millimetres) telescope.

Mr Al Qaissieh said he had goosebumps after seeing his first image through the telescope – Saturn’s rings.

“It almost looks fake, it’s too good to be true,” he said.

Despite being able to see details of the Moon, Mr Al Qaissieh said he had yet to find evidence of lunar landings.“We are still looking,” he said.

In his brother’s honour, Mr Al Qaissieh had a spherical metal sculpture representing the planets with Mansour’s graffiti signature in the middle put up next to the observatory.

Since the observatory’s opening, Mr Al Qaissieh and Mr Palado have regularly held events for the public and institutes. The biggest was for 70 people who attended a viewing of a supermoon in November.

A supermoon occurs when a full moon or new moon coincides with the Moon’s closest approach to Earth. Forty students from New York University Abu Dhabi’s astronomy club camped overnight late last year.

Mr Al Qaissieh and Mr Palado are using the observatory in the hopes of inspiring interest in astronomy in the youth and local communities.

“If, after five years, I find out a single child decided to pursue any of the related disciplines of astronomy because of a visit to my observatory, then I have achieved my purpose,” said Mr Al Qaissieh.

tsubiahi@thenational.ae

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

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Starring: Owen Teague, Freya Allen, Kevin Durand

Rating: 3.5/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

If you go...

Fly from Dubai or Abu Dhabi to Chiang Mai in Thailand, via Bangkok, before taking a five-hour bus ride across the Laos border to Huay Xai. The land border crossing at Huay Xai is a well-trodden route, meaning entry is swift, though travellers should be aware of visa requirements for both countries.

Flights from Dubai start at Dh4,000 return with Emirates, while Etihad flights from Abu Dhabi start at Dh2,000. Local buses can be booked in Chiang Mai from around Dh50

MATCH INFO

Euro 2020 qualifier

Fixture: Liechtenstein v Italy, Tuesday, 10.45pm (UAE)

TV: Match is shown on BeIN Sports

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UAE-Russia ties stretch back 48 years

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Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

Company Profile

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Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
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Industry: Sustainability & Environment
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Favourite films: Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia

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Favourite dish: Grilled fish

Inspiration: Sheikh Zayed's visionary leadership taught me to embrace new challenges.

Company profile

Name: Infinite8

Based: Dubai

Launch year: 2017

Number of employees: 90

Sector: Online gaming industry

Funding: $1.2m from a UAE angel investor

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Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder

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51% of parents in the UAE feel like they are failing within the first year of parenthood

57% vs 43% is the number of mothers versus the number of fathers who feel they’re failing

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53% of parents admit they put on a brave face rather than being honest due to fear of judgment

Source: YouGov

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Who is Mohammed Al Halbousi?

The new speaker of Iraq’s parliament Mohammed Al Halbousi is the youngest person ever to serve in the role.

The 37-year-old was born in Al Garmah in Anbar and studied civil engineering in Baghdad before going into business. His development company Al Hadeed undertook reconstruction contracts rebuilding parts of Fallujah’s infrastructure.

He entered parliament in 2014 and served as a member of the human rights and finance committees until 2017. In August last year he was appointed governor of Anbar, a role in which he has struggled to secure funding to provide services in the war-damaged province and to secure the withdrawal of Shia militias. He relinquished the post when he was sworn in as a member of parliament on September 3.

He is a member of the Al Hal Sunni-based political party and the Sunni-led Coalition of Iraqi Forces, which is Iraq’s largest Sunni alliance with 37 seats from the May 12 election.

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COMPANY PROFILE

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Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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