Palestine Pulse

Astronomy spreading among Palestinian youth

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Article Summary
NOVA for Astronomy and Space Science is helping Palestinian universities establish astronomy clubs, to increase the knowledge in astronomy among students and the public.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Seven students from Al-Quds University in Abu Dis attended the first class in astronomy on April 14, organized in cooperation with NOVA for Astronomy and Space Science, a Ramallah-based nonprofit association that oversees the training.

The first-of-its-kind course at the university's headquarters, 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) east of Jerusalem, was organized in collaboration with the university's astronomy club, which was established in partnership with NOVA on April 5, with the aim to introduce the students to astronomy.

Mohammed Awada, head of the astronomy club at the Department of Physics, told Al-Monitor, “We received the first two-hour practical training since we established the club, focusing on how to use the telescope and learning the basics of astronomical observations."

He said, “Over the next few weeks we will intensify training in order to reinstate the club’s administrative body and strengthen its knowledge and ability to properly use a telescope and imaging equipment so they can teach the club members.”

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Awada added, “The club will organize events on campus almost daily during Ramadan — which will start in early May — to monitor the planets, the moon and star clusters. Students and anyone from outside the university will be able to attend, participate and learn more about astronomy.”

NOVA has provided an 8-inch electronic telescope and imaging equipment, which was paid for by Mahmoud Sari, a Palestinian businessman and general manager of Sari Brothers General Contracting Company. The association also helped found the club’s administrative body under the supervision of the Department of Physics, and provide theoretical training on the principles of astronomy and space before the practical training began.

Musa Abu Teir, head of the Department of Physics, told Al-Monitor that the astronomy club will increase the students' interest in astronomy and teach them to monitor the sun, the moon and astronomical phenomena, and develop cooperation in joint research between the university and scientific institutions.

“The establishment of an astronomy club is a nucleus for a high-level astronomical observatory, a project under study for us,” he said, noting that the university will establish the observatory within the year and donors can help fund it.

Abu Teir added that the Department of Physics at Al-Quds University — with the support of the university administration — is seeking to develop a program in astronomy. “We are looking into the development of a study program that specializes in astronomy, which would be the first of its kind at a university in Palestine,” he said.

Not only students can benefit from what the university's astronomy club offers, but anyone wishing to join can register for the club's astronomy courses. “The university will focus on developing interest in astronomy among the community and the club is open to all,” said Abu Teir, adding that courses are free of charge.

The first astronomy club at a university in Palestine was founded in 2014 at Birzeit University in the central West Bank by a group of university students, who are members of the UNESCO Youth Committee for Astronomy and Space, headed by Rami al-Masri. NOVA’s director of development and planning, Omar al-Farouk, told Al-Monitor that the students established NOVA, which received a license from the Ministry of Interior in September 2018, after their graduation.

In September 2015, Birzeit University’s astronomy club set up an astronomical observatory, which, according to the university website, aims to “observe and monitor celestial bodies, such as Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the sun and the moon, in special events.”

Farouk said, “NOVA — which consists of eight people, in addition to 40 trainees — aims to develop interest in astronomy among the Palestinian public. NOVA is a nonprofit association and works with local institutions to support any project that serves its mission.”

On April 11, Farouk and other NOVA members set up their telescopes and cameras at the Independence Park in the center of Ramallah to monitor and take images of the moon, planets and star clusters, and many curious citizens came out to see what they were doing.

NOVA, which is self-financed and relies on local donors, organizes events in schools, parks and stargazing camps in different areas of the West Bank to monitor astronomical phenomena with its imaging equipment and telescopes. In addition, it organizes workshops for students on the basics of astronomy, and the movement of planets, stars and the solar system, by using interactive tools.

NOVA helps universities establish astronomy clubs by finding funding for astronomy equipment and training students to use the telescopes. Farouk noted, “NOVA is currently talking to another university [which he did not reveal the name of] in the West Bank to establish a club similar to the one at Al-Quds University as well as build an astronomical center in the northern West Bank.”

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Ahmad Melhem is a Palestinian journalist and photographer based in Ramallah for Al-Watan News. He writes for a number of Arabic outlets.

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