For the love of space: Saudis celebrate International Astronomy Day

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year. (AFP)
International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year. (AFP)
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Updated 09 October 2021

For the love of space: Saudis celebrate International Astronomy Day

For the love of space: Saudis  celebrate International Astronomy Day
  • ‘Space exploration unites us as a species, despite our differences,’ says Astromania co-founder

JEDDAH: Astronomy enthusiasts in Saudi Arabia are observing International Astronomy Day and World Space Week this year by encouraging others to look up in wonder with some visual and auditory help.

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year — around the times of the Spring and Autumn equinox or first quarter moon — to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year.

Arab and Muslim scholars have made significant contributions to astronomy throughout history — suggesting scientific and mathematical methods; naming stars and nebulae; and more.

While it may seem that we now spend less time looking at the skies, and more time looking down at our screens, 21st-century technology is actually enabling enthusiasts across the world to share knowledge, spread information, and raise awareness at lightning speed.  

In Saudi Arabia, Astromania — founded by Mahdi Al-Sulaiman, Fatima Hilal, and Abdullah Al-Meshari, a trio of space lovers — has made good use of this technology, starting a podcast in 2019 to complement its stargazing trips into the desert, which enable people to check out some of the brightest astronomical objects through telescopes.




International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year. (Supplied)

“I’ve always been interested about space, and I wanted to create an Arabic platform that helps other people to know more about it in a non-academic style, in a fun and easy-to-understand way,” Hilal told Arab News.

“People were weirded out and surprised when they heard about the subject. But now people understand the idea when they listened to the podcast for the first time. I know it is a unique subject, but it is a passion of mine,” she added.

While there is Arabic-language astronomy content available online —  notably on Wikipedia and a few social-media pages — Astromania is, the group claim, the first podcast in Arabic talking about astronomy and space. It is an independent project, but the founders work closely with the Saudi Space Authority too.

The podcast quickly gathered popularity, even attracting the attention of the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform, which selected Astromania as one of the top 14 podcasts to listen to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to create something out of love, so basically we are doing this podcast for free,” Hilal said. “The main reason why we created this podcast is to educate people more about the world and people’s support is very important to us.”

HIGHLIGHTS

While there is Arabic-language astronomy content available online Astromania is the first podcast in Arabic talking about astronomy and space. It is an independent project, but the founders work closely with the Saudi Space Authority too.

The podcast quickly gathered popularity, even attracting the attention of the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform, which selected Astromania as one of the top 14 podcasts to listen to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To celebrate World Space Week,  the UK’s National Space Center is running a ‘Women in Space’ program to shed light on women’s role in the science of space and astronomy throughout history.

To celebrate World Space Week (which runs from October 4-10),  the UK’s National Space Center is running a “Women in Space” program to shed light on women’s role in the science of space and astronomy throughout history. Hilal expressed her excitement at the theme.

“This will definitely help young girls to consider space science as a profession,” she said. “We already have some successful Saudi women who work in the field, like Ghada Al-Muttairi and Mashael Al-Shammari. They are setting an example for Saudi women.”

To coincide with International Astronomy Day and World Space Week, this month’s episode of the Astromania podcast features Jordanian-British filmmaker Kinda Al-Kurdi, who won the Best Documentary Short Film award for her film “As in Heaven, So on Earth” at the Moscow International Film Festival, Hilal said. “We are going to discuss the relationship between films and space.”

Hilal’s co-founder Mahdi Al-Sulaiman told Arab News that events such as World Space Week remind people “to think beyond our planet and beyond our differences. To work together as men and women of this great nation to pave the way for a better and prosperous future for the next generations.”




International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year. (Supplied)

He continued, “We are not just sharing one planet, we share one fate. And space exploration unites us as a species, despite our differences. I hope the celebration of International Astronomy Day will also inspire future generations to become astronauts, space scientists, or work in the space industry, to build a better tomorrow and take the next giant leaps to sustain mankind’s future.”

Joining in on the celebrations is avid Saudi astrophotographer Anas Al-Majed who has, for years, frequented the Kingdom’s many deserts, searching the night skies through his telescope for the perfect shot.

Al-Majed — who purchased his first telescope seven years ago — told Arab News he was “awestruck” by the detail it provided.

“From Saturn’s rings to Jupiter’s bands and Great Red Spot, my interest grew and I delved into deep-sky objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula.”

His experience with astrophotography has made a lasting impression, he said. And he encourages everyone to consider taking the time to learn more about our galaxy and what lies beyond it.

“We need everyone to be part of space programs,” he said. “The space industry can help human advancement and provide equal opportunities for everyone.”


Saudi Arabia records 1 COVID-19 death, 43 new cases

Saudi Arabia records 1 COVID-19 death, 43 new cases
Updated 13 sec ago

Saudi Arabia records 1 COVID-19 death, 43 new cases

Saudi Arabia records 1 COVID-19 death, 43 new cases
  • The health ministry says 26 patients have recovered from the virus in the last 24 hours
  • More than 22.6 million people have been fully vaccinated throughout the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia confirmed one new COVID-19 related deaths on Monday, raising the total number of fatalities to 8,845.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 43 new cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 549,955 people have now contracted the disease. Of the total number of cases, 37 remain in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh and Jeddah with 14 cases each, while Makkah confirmed three and Dhahran recorded two cases.


The health ministry also announced that 26 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 539,082.
Over 47.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started. More than 22.6 million people have been fully vaccinated.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 266 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 5.27 million.


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sends letter to UAE president

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sends letter to UAE president
Updated 06 December 2021

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sends letter to UAE president

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sends letter to UAE president
  • The message dealt with ways to develop bilateral relations
  • It was delivered by Saudi foreign minister during a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sent a written message to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, regarding their strong bilateral relations and ways to support and enhance them, Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday.
The message was delivered by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan during a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, UAE vice president and prime minister and ruler of Dubai.
During the reception, Prince Faisal conveyed greetings from King Salman to Sheikh Khalifa, wishing him and the Emirati people continued progress and prosperity.
Sheikh Mohammed said the UAE president expressed appreciation for the Saudi monarch, wishing him good health and wellness and the Saudi people further development and growth. 


Saudi crown prince leaves for Oman on first leg of GCC tour

Saudi crown prince leaves for Oman on first leg of GCC tour
Updated 06 December 2021

Saudi crown prince leaves for Oman on first leg of GCC tour

Saudi crown prince leaves for Oman on first leg of GCC tour
  • The tour is aimed at boosting and strengthening ties with GCC countries
  • Oman says his visit affirms the fraternal ties and historical relations binding both nations

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman left the Kingdom for Oman on Monday, the first leg of multiple stops in his tour of Gulf states.
Prince Mohammed’s visit comes “based on directives from King Salman, his keenness to communicate with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and to strengthen ties,” the Royal Court said in a statement issued by Saudi Press Agency.
During his tour, the crown prince will meet with leaders and senior officials in the sultanate, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, to discuss bilateral relations and ways to enhance them in all fields, as well as other issues of common interest.
Expected to be on the agenda when he meets with Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq are issues of mutual concern and ways to promote the interests of the two Gulf countries as well as ‘fulfilling the aspirations and hopes’ of their peoples, Oman’s state news agency ONA reported earlier on Monday.
The visit is an “affirmation of the ties of fraternity and kinship, and the historical relations binding the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” ONA said, adding both countries “are set for a new stage of economic and investment cooperation in all fields.”
Last July, the two countries reaffirmed plans to engage in joint investment in advanced technologies, innovation, renewable energy projects, industry health, real estate, tourism, petrochemical converting industries, supply chains, logistics partnership, information technology and financial technology, the ONA report said.
“The achievements made over the past five months and the active exchange of visits among officials reflect the keen desire of the two countries to work together.” This includes establishing the Saudi-Omani Investment Forum that was held in Muscat in August, where a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding were signed.


Saudi defenses destroy several drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward the Kingdom: Arab coalition

Saudi defenses destroy several drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward the Kingdom: Arab coalition
Updated 06 December 2021

Saudi defenses destroy several drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward the Kingdom: Arab coalition

Saudi defenses destroy several drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward the Kingdom: Arab coalition
  • Bahrain strongly condemned the attack

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s air defenses destroyed Houthi drones targeting the Kingdom, the Arab coalition said early on Monday.

The drones were shot down in Yemen before they could cause harm.

This follows the downing of several drones launched by the Iran-back militia on Sunday.

The action comes as the Arab coalition forces have been eliminating militia assets in recent weeks, including weapons and personnel.

The militia frequently launch cross border attacks using explosive-laden drones and ballistic missiles targeting populated areas in the Kingdom’s southern region.

The group, who seized the Yemeni capital in 2014, have been fighting the internationally recognized government, which is supported by the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

Earlier on Sunday, the coalition said Saudi defenses intercepted and destroyed four drones that tried to target the southern region.

The Arab Parliament denounced the attacks and said they constitute a clear violation of the Stockholm Agreement, which stipulates a cease-fire.

It “called on the international community to take an immediate and decisive stance to stop these repeated terrorist acts, and to prevent this militia from acquiring advanced military technology, which the Iranian regime supplies and used to target vital and civilian facilities.”

The UAE strongly condemned the attempts to target the Kingdom and said the continuation of these terrorist attacks by the Houthi militia reflects its blatant defiance of the international community.

Bahrain also strongly condemned the attacks, saying it “reflects the militias’ continued sinister and systematic attacks to target civilians and innocent lives.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed Bahrain’s support for all measures Saudi Arabia takes to ensure the security and safety of its territory, citizens and residents.

The war in Yemen has now raged for seven years, with some of the fiercest fighting taking place this year in the resource-rich and government-held province of Marib.

On Sunday, three Yemeni civilians were wounded when four Houthi missiles landed in residential areas in Marib.

Large explosions rocked the city after the four missiles hit the airport, Al-Shareka and Rawdha neighborhoods, residents said.

Footage on social media showed thick smoke billowing from shelled areas as people fled.

“The Houthi militia’s repeated targeting of the city of Marib, which is crowded with millions of residents and displaced people, with ballistic missiles is part of its attempts to inflict a big number of casualties among civilians. This is a cowardly act of revenge,” said Moammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s information minister.


Finnish runner to cross Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert

The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)
The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)
Updated 06 December 2021

Finnish runner to cross Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert

The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)
  • Jukka Viljanen will set off on Dec. 6 on a 25-day journey through 1,300 km of desert terrain, with the aim of becoming the first person to run across the massive desert
  • "This dream to run across the Empty Quarter has been my passion. I am very passionate about it because Rub Al-Khali is the biggest and the most beautiful sand desert in the world, it inspires me. My passion keeps me motivated to run for adventure"

RIYADH: A Finnish adventurer has set himself the challenge of joining the ranks of record-breaking pioneers who have made the grueling journey across Rub Al-Khali, Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter. Adventure runner Jukka Viljanen will set off on Dec. 6 on a 25-day journey through 1,300 km of desert terrain, with the aim of becoming the first person to run across the massive desert.

The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. The vast landscape of ever-shifting dunes was explored between the early 1930s and the 1950s by the likes of Bertram Thomas, the first recorded Westerner to cross the desert, and Wilfred Thesiger, and their Arab companions.

More recently, photographer Anna Aiko crossed Rub Al-Khali on camel in 2019, and Italian explorer Max Calderan, a long-time resident of Dubai, completed the first solo crossing of the Empty Quarter in 2020. Previous explorers have crossed shorter sections of Rub Al-Khali on camels or in off-road vehicles.

Given the inhospitable terrain and testing conditions, the journey is a test of endurance however it is undertaken but Viljanen aims to take the challenge to another level by running the whole way, covering about 50 kilometers a day. His challenge has been organized by Delta Adventures, a leader in desert journeys and adventures in Saudi Arabia.

Finnish adventure runner Jukka Viljanen (file photo)

“I started as an adventure runner 15 years ago,” Viljanen said during an exclusive interview with Arab News. “I am very passionate about the sand dunes; they energize me. I love the desert.

“It has become a challenge for me as the Empty Quarter has not been crossed fully yet. I want to make it with my team. I am very passionate about creating history by crossing it successfully.

HIGHLIGHT

Given the inhospitable terrain and testing conditions, the journey is a test of endurance however it is undertaken but Jukka Viljanen aims to take the challenge to another level by running the whole way, covering about 50 kilometers a day. His challenge has been organized by Delta Adventures, a leader in desert journeys and adventures in Saudi Arabia.

“This dream to run across the Empty Quarter has been my passion. I am very passionate about it because Rub Al-Khali is the biggest and the most beautiful sand desert in the world, it inspires me. My passion keeps me motivated to run for adventure. It’s my passion that brought me here.”

Viljanen said he chose Dec. 6 as the start date for his adventure for a special reason: “It’s the Finnish National Day.”

The expedition will be his first experience of running in the Empty Quarter, though has run in other Saudi deserts. In fact he has run in a number of challenging environments around the world.

“In 2007, I went to the North Pole where I participated in a marathon with snowshoes,” he said. “Then I did another marathon with a mountain bike.

“After the North Pole I decided to challenge myself more so I entered another race, which was in the Libyan Sahara in 2008. I did a 200km race over there. Then I went to Antarctica, the southernmost continent and site of the South Pole

"Some years later, I decided to run across (more) deserts. My first event was at the Kalahari Desert in 2010.”

I am very passionate about the sand dunes; they energize me. I love the desert. Jukka Viljanen

Viljanen ran across more than 1,000 km of the Kalahari in 20 days, including some of the most remote wilderness areas in Botswana.

“A few years later I was the first one to run across the Sahara Desert, which was 1,628 km in 31 days,” he added. “Two years ago I was able to run across the second-biggest ice sheet in the world … across the icecap of Greenland. That was approximately 600 km.”

His experiences and achievements are remarkable but he has no intention of stopping any time soon — quite the opposite.

“I want to go further and out of my comfort zone,” Viljanen said. “I want to raise the bar for myself, and that’s the reason I am here in Saudi Arabia: I want to be the first person to run across the Empty Quarter.”

He will run alone but will be accompanied by a backup team consisting of Saudis and a friend from Finland. The team leaders are Mohammed Al-Khamis and Ady Al-Khamis, the owners of Delta Adventures.

“I have known them since 2014, when I was here in Riyadh for the first time,” said Viljanen “They have been to the Empty Quarter before. I consider them my extended family.”

The climate in Saudi Arabia is a lot different to his native Finland but Viljanen is taking it all in his stride.

“Yes, it’s a lot warmer but I am quite used to it because of my experiences in the Sahara and Kalahari deserts,” he said. “I like that it’s warm, I take that as a bonus.”

He said he hopes he will have a chance to talk to young people in Saudi Arabia to share his experiences and help inspire them in their own lives and ambitions.

“I would like to speak to the Saudi people after the voyage,” Viljanen said. “I will be back here to share my story. People should raise their bar and they should have new goals in their lives, coming out of their comfort zone. It cannot be achieved sitting in their comfort zone. People have lots of potential but they don’t know it; we should motivate them to become role models for others.

“The main message is ‘challenge yourself.’ I am a motivational speaker and will give motivational talks to Saudi students and people to inspire them to accept the challenge and get out of their comfort zone, because the magic happens outside of the comfort zone. The Empty Quarter is not a comfort zone; the magic will happen there.”

This visit is Viljanen’s fifth to Saudi Arabia, and he said he is always impressed by Saudi traditions and the reception he receives.

“Besides my passion to run, I want to learn about new cultures,” he added. “I am amazed by the warm hospitality of the Saudi people. I attended a Saudi wedding ceremony on Wednesday. It was a blessing. I joined them in traditional dance and enjoyed it.”

It remains to be seen how his Empty Quarter challenge will compare to previous tests, but he is clear about what has been his most difficult undertaking so far.

“It was Greenland,” Viljanen said. “Crossing the ice sheet in 2019 was very difficult. It was full of snow and very cold. The terrain was really very difficult but it was very rewarding. I realized that I have potential, and here I am because of my North Pole experience.”

If running across the ice was his most challenging test, deserts present their own challenges.

“Sand makes it tough,” he explained. “It can ruin your legs so you really need to focus on taking care. Hot weather is another challenge but I keep myself very much hydrated. I drink every 20-30 minutes. I keep myself energized by eating every hour so my sugar level does not drop.”