Training Underway for Saudi Participants in 2024 Astrophysics and Astronomy Olympiad

The Hisma desert, located 90 km west of Tabuk in Saudi Arabia, is a breathtaking location for witnessing the grandeur of the night sky. Its geographical remoteness from populated areas reduces the impact of artificial light pollution, allowing the cosmos to be viewed in its full glory. The desert terrain not only offers an ideal setting for stargazing but also features unique geological formations, referred to locally as masabih and gharamil.

The Saudi Press Agency recently reported on these geological formations, which according to Abdulaziz bin Laboun, a geological expert and professor, are the result of millions of years of erosion. These natural sculptures give the landscape an aesthetic appeal that is unique and virtually unparalleled elsewhere. Laboun stated that this geological marvel is estimated to be over 500 million years old.

The Hisma desert is an ideal location for observing various cosmic events such as meteors, comets, and galaxies. In particular, the Milky Way, our home galaxy containing over 100 billion stars, can be viewed prominently against the desert’s clear night sky. Our solar system is located in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way, approximately 8,000 light years from the galaxy’s centre, which presents a radiant spectacle in the desert’s night sky.

In recent times, the desert has become a hotspot for “astro-tourism,” a burgeoning sector within regional tourism. Majed Abu Zahra, president of the Jeddah Astronomical Society, emphasized the growing significance of astro-tourism as a new addition to the variety of tourism genres, which include recreational, medical, and cultural tourism. The Hisma desert, with its pristine skies and unique geological formations, attracts both tourists and astronomers alike.

The desert provides an ideal setting for astronomical events like World Space Weeks and Astronomy Day, according to the Saudi Press Agency. It also allows for a range of other astronomical activities, including observing solar and lunar eclipses, meteor showers, and planetary alignments.

In conclusion, the Hisma desert offers a unique blend of geological and astronomical wonders, making it an ideal location for astro-tourism. Its pristine skies, devoid of artificial light pollution, and unique rock formations, make it a perfect natural amphitheater for stargazing and scientific discovery.

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