Haji Mammadov has his head in the clouds. Or rather, the stars. As one of the founding members of the Qatar Astronomy Club, he’s trying to bring his love of the universe to Doha.
‘Astronomy can bring peace and calmness to our minds. It breaks our daily routine, helps fight stress and tensions by taking us away from all the noise and hassle of the city life to a more tranquil, lights-free place with stars above our heads,’ he says. ‘Stargazers can relax and enjoy a beautiful view of the night sky. The night sky is so colorful and dynamic. Planets rotate around their own axis and revolve around their star. Bright nebulas in a variety of rich colors appear to be something like paintings created by God with unspeakable beauty. The universe is not static. It moves in all directions, keeps expanding, therefore it is interesting to us. Astronomy can be educational and fun at the same time. It encourages all of us to explore the unknown with lots of excitement.’
He’s been interested in astronomy since he was a child, inspired by television documentaries to turn his eye to the sky. But the Qatar Astronomy Club didn’t get started huddled around a telescope. Instead, it started on Facebook.
‘Qatar Astronomy Club (QAC) is a community page on Facebook to unite everyone in Qatar who loves astronomy and stargazing, and who is generally interested in the beauty of our night sky!’ says Mammadov. ‘It is the right place where the members can share and discuss their knowledge and experiences in order to motivate and assist the others to understand some basics fundamentals related to astronomy.’
Soon after the page launched last November, Mammadov was joined by Jassim Lari, and the club started to expand. ‘We needed somehow to find those talented and interested people and put them in one group where they can interact with each other, share their knowledge, and practice astronomy in the real world,’ says Mammadov. ‘At the moment, we have around 90 subscribers. They are from different countries, in fact. Some of them are locals and others are expatriates. They like the page either to enjoy reading the articles or to meet with others to enjoy observing the night sky.’
Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences, with documented evidence that ancient civilizations across the globe studied the sky carefully. The Egyptians built monuments to celestial movements (one disputed theory is that the pyramids at Giza are a representation of the Orion constellation), while the Babylonians, Greeks, Indians, Iranians and Mayans based traditions and calendars on the night sky. The position of the stars allowed for early seafarers to explore the world, and have guided explorers for centuries. As technology has advanced, we’ve been able to see farther and more clearly, studying the universe in ways previous unimaginable.
And, it’s a discipline that embraces hobbyists. Amateur astronomers can observe the sky, often with equipment they built themselves, and have discovered comets, observed stars and the orbits of planets and more. According to Mammodov, Qatar is a great place to get started.
‘The general perception among Qatar residents is that the country is small and has lots of light pollution so that seeing stars is almost impossible. And partially, in today’s world, we sort of lost the connection with the night sky, and don’t really appreciate how beautiful and important it is because of developed infrastructure within city limits is true. But if you drive outside Doha in any direction, you can find many unpopulated areas, that are away from city lights. Skies there are filled with stars, clusters – areas good for celestial views or astrophotography. Other than city and street lights, we are challenged by dust, humidity and weather,’ he says.
The group held their first off-Facebook meeting in December to observe the Geminids meteor shower, and participated in the 1st Doha International Astronomy Conference last month, and have big plans for the coming year.
‘The most important event of the year will be on November 28. Newly discovered comet ISON will make its closest approach to the Sun. If the comet survives its encounter with the Sun, it could be the brightest comets in recent memory. Some astronomers estimate that it could even be bright enough to be seen during daylight hours,’ says Mammodov. ‘In August and September, the comet will begin to be visible in the morning sky in dark locations with telescopes. In October it will start to be visible to the naked eye and will continue to get brighter until November 28. If the comet survives, it will be visible in the early morning and early evening sky and could be nearly as bright as the full Moon. Some astronomers are already calling it the comet of the century.’
But, first on the agenda is finding a space for regularly held meetings, someplace that’s accessible, especially for people with children, while still being remote enough to limit light pollution.
‘We want to promote astronomy to the public. And would like to seek support from scientists, astronomers, physicists in doing so by sharing their knowledge, experience,’ says Mammodov. ‘And of course share all we know on the subject with everyone.’
For more, check out the Qatar Astronomy Club on Facebook.
Must-See Stargazing Events
Keep your eyes glued on the sky for some spectacular cosmic shows.
March 10-24: Comet Panstarrs, visible to the naked eye.
April 25: Partial lunar eclipse.
May 10: Annular Eclipse of the sun (also known as a ‘Ring of Fire’ eclipse).
May 20-24: Dance of the Planets, where Mars, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury become the brightest things in the sky, their movements visible each morning in what NASA calls the ‘Great Morning Planet Show’ early each morning.
June 23: Biggest full moon of 2013.
August 12: Perseid Meteor Shower.
Oct 18: Penumbral Eclipse of the moon.
Nov 3: Hybrid Eclipse of the Sun
Mid November-December: Comet ISON, bright enough to be seen in the daylight.
December: 13-14 Geminid Meteor Shower.