Pakistani science enthusiast’s astronomical observatory wins $5,000 grant

Published February 21, 2017
A view of Saturn captured using Scoop.— Dr Muhammad Akbar Hussain
A view of Saturn captured using Scoop.— Dr Muhammad Akbar Hussain

A Pakistani science enthusiast’s astronomical observatory has won a $5,000 grant at the National Science Week 2017, an initiative of the Government of Australia.

The Southern Cross Outreach Observatory Project (Scoop) is a domed observatory mounted on a trailer and equipped with a computerised telescope. The aim of the observatory is to make astronomy more accessible to distant and remote communities inAustralia.

Dr Muhammad Akbar Hussain, a Pakistani paediatrician, is the brains behind the design and execution of Scoop.

The observatory — Dr Muhammad Akbar Hussain
The observatory — Dr Muhammad Akbar Hussain

Hussain, a keen amateur astronomer, is a member of the Karachi Astronomers Society and The Astronomical League of Pakistan.

He also designed and constructed the Kastrodome, an astronomical observatory in the Gulistan-e-Jauhar area of Karachi, with his brother, Mehdi, in 2013.

In conversation with Dawn.com, Dr Akbar Hussain talked about the motivation behind this project and his future plans.

“The observatory is a 2.3-metre dome equipped with an 11-inch diametre telescope. The project was completed in June 2016 and launched in August 2016. This mobile observatory is among the main features of Australia's National Science Week 2017.”

The telescope used in Scoop — Dr Muhammad Akbar Hussain
The telescope used in Scoop — Dr Muhammad Akbar Hussain

The project will involve further outreach events, planned to include Port Augusta, Broken Hill, Mildura and smaller towns around the Adelaide region.

The mobile observatory will also travel to three states in Australia — i.e. South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria — and carry out outreach activities.

“The long-term vision is to gather interested entrepreneurs and volunteers to construct similar mobile observatories and create a network throughout Australia, either under the umbrella of Scoop or independently.”

The cumulative grant for National Science Week 2017 is $500,000. The grant awarded to Scoop will cover a part of costs incurred during conducting public outreach events.

People gather around the observatory. — Dr Muhammad Akbar Hussain
People gather around the observatory. — Dr Muhammad Akbar Hussain

“In the future, I also have plans to build a much larger fixed observatory — similar to the Kastrodome in Karachi or even bigger — under the dark and pristine skies of the Australian outback.”

Australia’s National Science Week is country’s annual science fair. Held every August, it provides a platform to over 1,000 science events around Australia for the promotion of science among the masses.

The events are held at libraries, colleges, universities, and in communities and provide the public and professionals a chance to meet and talk science.

Partners include the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Science Teachers Association.

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