Sky’s the limit for scope

Dubai’s Dh40m astronomy observatory, due to open this year, will feature the largest telescope in the GCC, as part of its focus to get more people interested in space.

Hasan Al Hariri, who leads the Dubai Astronomy Group, at the site of Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre in Mushrif Park, Dubai. The main aim of the centre is to get more visitors interested in space. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // A Dh40 million observatory will inspire the public to look to the stars when it opens at the end of the year.

Construction began on the Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre in Mushrif Park a year ago and should be completed by December, when it will house the largest active public telescope in the GCC and help to make Dubai a scientific and research hub.

Hasan Al Hariri, chief executive of the Dubai Astronomy Group, said the Mirdif observatory “will tell the story of the universe, with displays and information about the solar system”.

“It’s about 90 per cent done and we should, hopefully, have the rest of the construction completed by the end of August.

“We haven’t settled on the size of the main telescope as yet but it will be either one or two metres in size,” Mr Al Hariri said.

Despite being so close to the lights of the city and Dubai airport, the aim of the observatory is to get the public interested in space and “show them how clearly we can view the sky even with light pollution”, Mr Al Hariri said. “We have plans for a 2.5-metre-plus telescope in Hatta, away from light pollution, which will be focused more on scientific research.”

The day-to-day operation of the centre, which is funded by Dubai Municipality, will be handled by the Dubai Astronomy Group.

The telescope will be housed in the main observation deck on the second floor.

“From here the telescope will be used to view the planets in our solar system as well as more distant nebula and galaxies,” Mr Al Hariri said.

The public will also be able to use several smaller telescopes to gaze at the stars, he said.

The centre, which will have a theatre showing films about space and the latest technology, will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will host schools and college tours.

A family ticket for a two-hour tour is expected to cost about Dh50, with displays and exhibits updated every six months to keep it as fresh an experience for visitors as possible.

“We have so many plans and ideas to show the public and are very excited about revealing those once we open,” he said.

Mr Al Hariri has long been passionate about the project, although it has been decades in the making.

“It’s a dream come true for me and the other members of the astronomy group, and we can’t wait to share our passion for space and the sciences with the wider community,” he said.

The project has been welcomed as a way of getting more people interested in space.

“Dubai has all the shopping malls and traditional tourist attractions, but this sounds amazing,” said Jemma Franklin, from the UK.

For Indian Sanjeet Patel, the centre will be a way to get his children more involved in science.

“My eight-year-old son loves watching TV shows about space but once this centre opens we will be able to take him and he will get a first-hand experience of astronomy.”

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