Desert Camping with the Astronomy Club

It’s late afternoon on April 17. Somewhere near the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain Road, around 20 km east from where NYU Abu Dhabi holds desert activities on ...

It’s late afternoon on April 17. Somewhere near the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain Road, around 20 km east from where NYU Abu Dhabi holds desert activities on Candidate Weekends, a group of people carry sleeping bags and boxes filled with food from a bus towards the sand dunes. Eventually, they pick the right spot to deposit the equipment and settle down.
They begin to explore the area, some choose to sit down, eat and relax. Others carry the heavy parts of two telescopes to set up. After a moment, everything is ready. The only thing left to do is to wait for the sun to hide below the horizon and the stars to show up.
The NYUAD Astronomy Overnight Trip was brought to the star-gazing enthusiasts of the student body by the Astronomy Club. It marked the second astronomy trip in the academic year, and the third one in NYUAD history. Why do these nights take place? They’re the best way to attract student attention for astronomy, according to Zbyněk Stara, sophomore and Astronomy Club president.
“We can organize lectures, but nobody shows up for them,” he said. It seems he had a point: only a month before final exams, the trip certainly didn’t suffer from the lack of interest.
A group of around twenty students and one faculty member came for the trip, each seeming to enjoy the night's itinerary and the collective cheer of a star-gazing gathering.
“The really cool bit is that you came here for astronomy, you came here to see stars,” said freshman Levancho Asatiani about the trip. “But you leave with an experience of walking far away, with an experience of meeting new people who are interested in things you are interested in as well, and seeing planets you wanted to see since childhood but you never managed, because you never had the possibility.”
Asatiani, an ardent star explorer, attended the Astronomy Trip last semester, became the Astronomy Club Treasurer in the meantime and returned to this spot in the desert as one of the trip organizers.
A bonfire that night created a cheerful atmosphere, set by summertime weather and several remarkable observations in the night sky. Jupiter and then Saturn, spotted through one of the telescopes around midnight, were by far the most exciting, thanks to their distinguishing features of moons and rings.
The other telescope wasn’t available due to technical issues, but the Google Sky Map smartphone application was helpful in identifying planets, stars and their constellations. Truth be told, the sky was so clear that night that it was as enjoyable to watch magnified orbs through a lens, as it was to contemplate the entire picture without it. It wasn’t until well into the night when students dispersed in search of the most comfortable sand dune to sleep on.
The trip was over before the sun reached its zenith the next day, but it seems that gradually, organized stargazing is becoming something of a NYUAD tradition. With university telescopes at disposal and access to multiple desert camping sites within less than a two-hour drive from campus, all that's needed is a little more student involvement.
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