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SAASST on mission to combat light pollution, make sky-watching popular

SAASST on mission to combat light pollution, make sky-watching popular
9 July 2024 08:49


Utilising cutting-edge technologies to mitigate the impact of light pollution and unstable weather conditions, the Department of Astronomical Observatories at the Sharjah Academy for Astronomy, Space Sciences, and Technology (SAASST) is to host a series of sky-watching events from July 2024 to July 2025.

Speaking to Aletihad, organisers said the main focus of these events is to highlight the impact of light pollution and make astronomy enjoyable and accessible to the public.

SAASST is the first scientific institution in space sciences established in the Emirate of Sharjah, and is an affiliate of the University of Sharjah.

Amjad Al Rashdan, Administrative Assistant, said that the academy uses ground-based telescopes and archives, records observations in detailed logs, and publishes findings in renowned scientific or local conferences.

Mashhoor Al Wardat, Director of the Astronomical Observatories Department and Director of the Academic Affairs Department at SAASST, said that the UAE features a desert climate characterised by hot summers with temperatures often exceeding 45 degrees Celsius, and mild winters.

Coastal areas tend to be cooler, but the country is generally dry and sunny year-round. This climate presents unique challenges for astronomical observations, he said.

Elaborating on this, he added that light pollution in the UAE poses a significant challenge, impacting sky clarity and obscuring faint astronomical phenomena. 
Factors such as summer storms, urban humidity, and seasonal variations further hinder visibility. Addressing these challenges necessitates local initiatives and the adoption of responsible lighting practices, he added.

Highlighting further challenges in the observation and study of astronomical events in the UAE, Mohammed Musharraf, Research Analyst, noted that there is pervasive light pollution throughout the year. Additionally, from January to March and October to December, much of the UAE is often covered by clouds and experiences rain showers. From June to early September, high humidity levels prevail.

“Therefore, careful advance planning and selecting a location away from cities are advised to observe astronomical events,” Musharraf said.

Elaborating further, Al Wardat noted that the Sharjah Astronomical Observatory boasts advanced observational technology. “With four fixed telescopes and several portable telescopes, we are equipped to observe various celestial events within the limiting magnitudes of these telescopes. The largest telescope we have is the 17-inch CDK reflector, which can be used for photometry, spectroscopy, and astrophotography,” Al Wardat said.

High-resolution spectroscopy, radio signal detection, AI, and machine learning are used to analyse observations, including lunar impact events, utilising the Radio Observatory and Radio Decametric Observatory, he added.

International Partnerships

Regarding collaborations with international space agencies and observatories, Ammar Abdulla, Research Analyst at SAASST, highlighted several notable partnerships.

SAASST has collaborated with UAE University, DEIMOS Space, Barrabés Middle East, and the Sharjah Lunar Impact Observatory for NELIOTA.

These collaborations focus on drifting GEO satellites, space situational awareness, and spacecraft traffic management. Besides, they involve technology transfer, space surveillance, and partnerships with Intel and other firms.

Research Opportunities

Samar Abu Aloul, another Research Analyst, pointed out that there are significant research opportunities linked to these astronomical events.

“Astronomical events such as moon phases, partial and total lunar eclipses, and partial solar eclipses provide numerous research opportunities across various scientific disciplines, including potential research topics in astronomy and astrophysics, atmospheric science, space missions and instrumentation, and education and outreach,” Abu Aloul said.

High-profile events like planetary transits capture the public’s imagination and connect communities, making astronomical events essential for scientific progress and public interest, according to Abu Aloul.

Majid Al Ali, Senior Administrative Assistant, said that SAASST hosts events to promote astronomy, space science, and technology through public lectures, workshops, observatory tours, science fairs, educational programmes for schools, online outreach, and publications.

These events aim to make complex scientific concepts accessible, engage the public, and inspire young students towards careers in science and technology, Al Ali added.

Encouraging Amateur Astronomers

Mohammed Rihan, Research Analyst, highlighted the resources that amateur astronomers are encouraged to use for observing these events.

“Amateur astronomers can enjoy observing many celestial objects using tools such as binoculars and simple refracting telescopes. They can also track astronomical events through online interactive calendars and smartphone applications like Stellarium. When planning to observe and photograph celestial bodies, understanding the darkness of the sky is crucial,” Rihan added.

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