By Tayiba Ahmad
During the Islamic Golden Age, which lasted from the mid-8th century to the mid thirteenth century, scholarly learning was greatly prized by the Arabs and Muslims, and Arab scholars majorly contributed to developments in science and mathematics. Amongst these were the developments they made in astronomy. Arab astronomers made innovative discoveries and conducted research that was later adopted by astronomers from other parts of the world. Unfortunately, astronomy in the Arab world has declined, even though it is needed, not only particularly for religious purposes, but also for other philosophical purposes.
According to Dr. Nidhal Guessoum, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the Department of Physics at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) College of Arts and Sciences, one of the main reasons for this decline is the lack of professional observatories in the Arab world. The one large observatory with a telescope of more than about one meter exists in Egypt and goes back more than 50 years now. To tackle this problem, Dr. Guessoum, along with two of his students at American University of Sharjah, Noora Alsaeed and Nada Abdelhafez, initiated a theoretical research project in 2014 to try to figure out what would be the best places to build an observatory in the Arab world. A number of internationally recognized criteria were used for the research, such as altitude, air transparency, number of clear nights per year, temperature profiles and humidity, which they had extracted from online data.
Using this data, the team was able to produce a graded list of sites where astronomical observatories could be built. The list included South Sinai in Egypt; Hejaz Mountains in Saudi Arabia; Ahaggar and Aures Mountains in Algeria; Wadi Rum in Jordan; Atlas Mountains in Morocco; Marrah Mountains in Sudan; Cheekha Dar in Iraq and Moyen Atlas in Morocco. Dr. Guessoum and his students, one of whom was a freshman student, were also able to have their research published in an international journal.
As a follow up project to this, Dr. Guessoum is now trying to re-do the research by using space data this time. Data from American and European satellites observing the entire Arab world is abundant, and Dr. Guessoum believes that this research will be another constructive contribution for Arab astronomy.
Regarding the follow up project, Dr. Guessoum said, “The project has not yet matured, but it has started. I am hoping to get some support for it sometime soon, and if we do that then it will be another contribution to really sort of be constructive and be positive and to show the officials from everywhere, here are the best places to do that, to build observatories. So there is this interest that lets try to build some observatories, let’s try to help Arab astronomy take off again, and we are doing our part, and we are contributing whatever we know and whatever we can contribute. Hopefully it will come to fruition. I don’t like to be pessimistic. I like to just contribute and contribute and one day hopefully it will succeed.”
The research projects being conducted by Dr. Nidhal Guessoum demonstrate the efforts he and American University of Sharjah are making to help push Arab astronomy forward.
Tayiba Ahmed is a student at American University of Sharjah.
Visit www.aus.edu for more information about American University of Sharjah