Seven of the UAE's best stargazing spots

From astronomy centres to random spots across the desert, the UAE is filled with great places to watch celestial events

It has been a busy year for celestial events in the UAE, from a solar eclipse in June to at least four sets of meteor showers.

Each year brings another set of stellar displays that send stargazers out in droves to witness an out-of-this world space event.

As the UAE's love of space grows, peoples' eyes are increasingly turning to the skies.

Avid space lovers have their fair pick of places to witness these events depending on whether they would like to go it alone by heading out to the desert or into the mountains, or attending an organised gathering at an astronomy centre.

Though the year is nearing its end, there are still at least two meteor showers that will be visible from the UAE.

The Orionids, the “most beautiful” meteor shower of the year, is currently visible every night.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A: Multiple exposures were combined to produce this image. Startrails are seen during the Lyrids meteor shower over the Abu Dhabi desert. Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020. Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The event occurs annually at this time as Earth passes through the stream of debris left behind by Halley's Comet.

Known to be the world’s most famous comet, Halley is visible from Earth every 75 to 76 years. The last time it was here was in 1986, and it is not due to come again until mid-2061.

The Orionids showers’ peak has already passed – that happened last Thursday. But there is still plenty to see over the coming week before they dissipate in early November.

The Orionids is not the strongest shower of the year, but the meteors can very bright as they burn up in the atmosphere, and they are known to be very fast, plummeting into Earth’s atmosphere at about 66 kilometres a second.

They are one of nine meteor showers which occur in the Earth’s skies every year.

The next event will occur in November, with the Leonids, followed by the Geminids and the Ursids in December.

However, not all meteor showers are visible in all locations.

The next meteor shower to grace UAE skies will be the Leonids, which produces 15 meteors per hour at its peak, followed by the Geminids.

The National rounds up the best places to see meteor showers in the UAE.

Al Sadeem Astronomy

Built by an Emirati businessman and a Filipino resident, who studied the sky over the northern Ilocos region of the Philippines, Al Sadeem Observatory began as a personal project but now attracts stargazers and pupils from across the country.

Located in Al Wathba, the observatory has a large telescope mounted within a 5.5 metre dome.

The centre is equipped with a bathroom, kitchen, training area and has all types and sizes of telescopes that can be use during stargazing activities.

Events are typically held around important dates on the space calendar but most have been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The centre is currently closed for visitors but is well worth the trip once it reopens.

People stand to watch a partial lunar eclipse through a telescope at the Al Thuraya Astronomy Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre

On the outskirts of Dubai, in the middle of Mushrif Park, is a great spot to watch any celestial event.

The centre has one of the largest telescopes in the region that has a one-metre diameter mirror.

Space enthusiasts can book a session at the centre and be shown how to use a telescope to observe the night sky. The centre also offers a solar observation experience for those who wish to use a telescope to look for Sunspots and Solar flares on the surface of the star.

Because of the Covid-19 outbreak, it is recommended that sessions are booked in advance. Face masks are mandatory.

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates- March,24, 2015: Sharjah Centre for Space Sciences and Astronomy  in the Unversity  City in Sharjah . ( Satish Kumar / The National ) For Focus / Story by Rym Ghazal *** Local Caption ***  SK-SharjahAstronomy-24032015-01.jpg

Sharjah Centre for Astronomy and Space Sciences

The centre opened in 2015 as a small optical observatory with one telescope to observe the galaxies, stars and planets.

Since then, it has grown to include two more: one to observe the sun and moon and the other, which is mainly used for a specific type of solar observations.

Encased in a golden dome – said to have been designed by Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, himself – the centre is actively involved in space research.

It also monitors the crescent moon throughout the year to contribute findings that determine when Islamic events, including Ramadan and Eid, begin.

The academy is currently closed to visitors due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Al Quaa Milky Way spot

If seeing the stars naturally, away from the fuss of a city, is more your thing, there are several places worth visiting.

The ‘Al Quaa Milky Way spot’ is so famous it has its own location tag, along with pictures taken by stargazers, in Google Maps.

An hour and a half’s drive from the capital, in the middle of the Abu Dhabi desert, it is one of the darkest places in the UAE’s night sky as there is no light pollution whatsoever.

People who have been there say it genuinely does look as breathtakingly beautiful as the pictures that have been shared of the galaxy that have been taken there.

Samy Al Olabi, an astrophotographer who specialises in taking images of the night sky using a long exposure technique, said it is the darkest area in the whole of the UAE.

Also known as Razeen Desert, the area is good because the stars are located far from Abu Dhabi and close to the Empty Quarter, which suffers from no light pollution.

“The south of this area is pitch black. It is one of the best locations in terms of the quality of the sky.”

A 4x4 is not required.

Shuweihat Island

This island is pretty far from any major city in the UAE, on the border with Saudi Arabia on the western edge of the country.

The closest town is Al Ruwais, and Sir Baniyas Island sits to the right off the coast.

Its potential for stargazing comes from the fact that it is removed from major cities, meaning there is little light pollution to spoil views of the night sky.

It has been popular with campers over the years, but visitors over the summer said the beaches on the island have been fenced off, so can only be seen from a distance.

And anyone attempting to visit to see the stars there will need to take a 4x4 to get across the causeway and over the rocky headland. From there it is possible to disembark and scramble down to the water’s edge.

The best time to visit is before the sun goes down in order to see the sights on the island, is unlike anywhere else in the UAE, with low-lying cliffs, sea caves and rocks the colour of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

"Tent in the Rub al Khali desert Oman during sunset,"

Rub Al Khali Desert

Cutting a vast swathe of the UAE and stretching into Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen, the Rub Al Khali is the world’s largest sea of sand.

Known as the Empty Quarter, it covers 583,000 square kilometres and, as such, there are numerous stargazing spots.

To learn some of the best contact an astrology group or a tour company like Arabian Tours, which offers sky watching trips.

Participants kayak down on Hatta dam during the "Women's Adventure Hatta" organized by Dubai Sports Council and in partnership with Hatta Adventures in Hatta, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Hatta

This enclave of Dubai high in the Hajjar mountains is also a good stargazing spot due to its location, according to Mr Al Olabi.

It does suffer from some light pollution, but it is all coming from the north, west and east, “except for the south towards the Oman border, which is where the” Galactic Centre” of the Milky Way rises and sets, he said.

The area is becoming more light polluted, but if you go deep into the mountains you can find some good stargazing spots, said Mr Al Olabi.

The bonus about starwatching in Hatta is it is an interesting place to visit in its own right, with plenty of places to stay. There is also no shortage of activities, including hiking, biking and kayaking.

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