Gaza’s astronomy followers gaze longingly at heavens

“What gets to me is that I was unable to take part in the 2021 astronomy camp in Hebron as the Israeli occupation refused to grant us permits,” Jumana Koueider, an beginner astronomer from the Gaza Strip, lamented in her assertion to Al-Monitor.

Koueider defined that the camp, which was held on Aug. 5, included an observational astronomy coaching course held on the observatory of Birzeit University and on the planetarium of the Korea Palestine Center in Hebron, because the month of August provides probably the most lovely astronomical occasions within the Palestinian sky of Palestine: a serious meteor bathe.

She added that the camp consists of lessons concerning the sky of Palestine and its star clusters and constellations. “We were going to observe Saturn and Jupiter with telescopes,” she mentioned.

“At dawn, we were also going to observe the moon. My team and I were planning to watch the International Space Station crossing in the Palestinian sky, a wonderful scene that can be seen with the naked eye,” Koueider added. “We were going to photograph an arm of the Milky Way.”

Koueider leads a crew of 30 volunteers who usually meet at Al-Aqsa University’s Center of Astronomy and Space Sciences Research. They train youngsters from throughout Gaza about astronomy and associated sciences at her home and different websites reminiscent of the Al-Aqsa analysis heart in cooperation with native establishments reminiscent of UNRWA colleges, public colleges and the Qattan Foundation

Since 2013, astronomy camps have been held yearly for astronomers and astronomy lovers throughout the West Bank, however not within the Gaza Strip. Each yr, Koueider registers to participate in certainly one of them, simply to be rejected by the Israeli authorities repeatedly. 

Koueider, a self-described bookworm, took an curiosity in astronomy after she learn a ebook on its historical past because the period of her Canaanite ancestors and historical civilizations. She had discovered the ebook on the cabinets of her grandfather’s library within the attic of his humble home.

Al-Monitor stepped into Koueider’s makeshift laboratory that she arrange at her home in Khan Yunis within the southern Gaza Strip. There she retains lenses and different tools together with hand-made instruments and fashions of celestial our bodies.

During certainly one of her demonstrations, she put lemon juice on a sunflower leaf and the category watched because it turned purple. The youngsters have been astonished as she mentioned what such easy chemistry experiments can train concerning the stars.

“We are now taking part in the first astronomy camp for children in the Gaza Strip called ‘Astronomical Adventures,’ in cooperation with the Culture and Free Thought Association. At the end of the camp, there will be an exhibition for the children to share and demonstrate what they’ve learned,” Koueider added.

Koueider hopes that extra folks in Gaza will take curiosity in astronomy and that the sparse present actions and applications will likely be developed.

Mirna Abu Mosbah, one of Koueider’s volunteers who holds a physics diploma from Al-Azhar University, informed Al-Monitor, “The dream seemed quite elusive at first. We were bullied and mocked because we live in a besieged city where people asked us how we were planning to build a space rocket and whether or not we were going to NASA. But we believe in what we are doing. We are very happy with what we are achieving and will achieve. Despite the lack of opportunities and other problems, we are still learning and innovating.”

Lorraine Qandil, one other member of the crew and an astrochemist at Al-Aqsa University, informed Al-Monitor that the crew made a small telescope from reused components. She added that the shortage of fabric sources is much from the one problem, saying, “Most of us are girls, and we live in a conservative society where going out after midnight to see the stars and the moon is frowned upon.”

Sobh Wajih al-Qiq, a doctoral scholar on the Sorbonne University and a researcher with the Plasma Physics Laboratory in Paris, labored as a researcher on the Center of Astronomy and Space Sciences Research at Al-Aqsa University and headed the astronomy crew earlier than he travelled to France and Koueider took over.

“In Gaza, life is limited and opportunities are almost nonexistent, but hope springs eternal,” Qiq informed Al-Monitor.

He defined that he studied and acquired many scholarships and analysis alternatives, “but I was not able to get out of the Gaza prison until two years ago, when I traveled to Paris.”

Qiq added, “I worked at some Palestinian research institutions and universities, but there is unfortunately not enough interest in science to make a difference. Universities tend not to establish space research centers, and if any of them are inclined toward establishing such centers, they usually fail to prioritize them.”

Qiq pressured the necessity to present Palestinian scientists alternatives overseas and help them of their research and for extra consideration to be paid to the work of the Center of Astronomy and Space Sciences Research.

Ziyad al-Sahar, a physics professor at Al-Aqsa University, informed Al-Monitor, “I was interested in astronomy since childhood and I used to borrow astronomy books from the Center for Culture and Light [in Remal] in the 1970s, as resources were sparse and there are no astronomy specialists in Palestine.”

He added, “There is an astronomy center at Al-Aqsa University, astronomy societies, a club for amateur astronomers and astronomical projects in the Gaza Strip, but all of them need support and development.”

“Only two telescopes have entered Gaza through the French consulate, and it is difficult to provide more advanced telescopes due to the siege,” Sahar mentioned, including that the college is at present working to introduce an astronomy course.

Dawoud Tarawa, the director of the Palestinian Astronomical Society in Jerusalem, informed Al-Monitor, “In the month of August, the Palestinian sky hosts an exciting astronomical event: the Perseids meteor shower, which is one of the most intense and enjoyable meteor showers.”

They fall on Aug. 9-14 and the activity peaks on Aug. 12.

Tarawa added, “The Palestinian team thankfully won first place in the world in the International Space Settlements Design Contest organized by NASA.” The annual August competitors for highschool college students is supported by many area, engineering and training organizations.

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