Khadija Hasan Ahmad's love for astronomy comes from her father. In the early 2000s, she and her three brothers would often accompany him on monthly stargazing trips into the desert.

Now, at 25, Khadija helps run the Dubai Astronomy Group (DAG) – founded by her father, Hasan Ahmad Al Hariri – as the non-profit organisation’s operations manager.

“We didn’t know much about astronomy – no one was teaching us astronomy at school,” she told Khaleej Times. “The only things we knew about it were from our dad who would teach and show us.”

DAG was officially founded in the year 2000, then consisting of just Al Hariri and a few of his friends who loved astronomy. Membership quickly grew, and as the events got bigger, Khadija and her siblings got more involved. One of the biggest events she remembers happened when she was just 10, with over 500 people showing up at their campsite in Al Zubair to watch the Geminid meteor shower.

“It was the small things we would love to do, like giving out flyers to people or just helping people find a seat,” she said.

‘We are family’

The siblings’ roles quickly expanded, with Khadija being put in charge of a growing group of young volunteers. During events, she would do everything from debriefing them to making sure they got home safely.

“What I usually tell all of the volunteers is that once you're part of the group, you're part of the family,” Khadija shared. “It's going to be exhausting, but there is so much excitement. It's like being up with your cousins and you get to have a sleepover, except you're in the desert and you're not sleeping.”

Khadija enjoyed it so much that once she finished high school, she decided not to go to college. Instead, she chose to permanently join the Dubai Astronomy Group.

“It seemed like a fun opportunity. This could be something big,” she said. “My passion was meeting people, doing public lectures and events, things like that. Even though I wasn't planning to become like an astronomer, I wanted to find my own place in this.”

A “normal work day” for Khadija involves meeting children at the Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre to educate them about the wonders of space. Khadija also helps organise events for the public to stargaze.

Top spots for stargazing

Khadija’s top spots to stargaze include Jebel Jais, which has good weather year-round and offers campers a spectacular view of the sunrise the next day. She also recommends Al Quaa, an Abu Dhabi spot that offers one of the clearest views of the night sky in the UAE. Since these spots can be tricky to access for those without 4x4 vehicles, Al Qudra is a good alternative, as it is easily accessible by car.

Today, apart from running day-to-day operations, Khadija also represents DAG on the international stage. She met with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and Nasa (US space agency) representatives in the US in October this year, giving lectures to about 800,000 people in New Mexico during a solar eclipse event.

Nasa has invited the Dubai Astronomy Group back in April for the next solar eclipse in the US, which is set to be its last until 2044.

“My goal is to donate solar eclipse glasses,” she said. “I want at least every state to get some glasses from us for the eclipse.”

More women in astronomy

Khadija also said that she has been seeing a promising uptick of women in astronomy in the UAE.

“I've met so many of them. Pretty much any space conference that I went to, it's mostly the women who are running the thing.”

“I feel like women have so many opportunities here and they're enabled to do a lot of incredible things,” she said. “We have Nora Al Matrooshi who's going to be the next astronaut going to space. And this is a huge opportunity for us that shows that anyone can go. Anyone can be a part of this and find their own passion and their own roots in space and astronomy.”

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