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“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Such a quote has always inspired me. It has always made me feel this strange connection with the sky, making it my most powerful source of tranquility. I sometimes wondered how our ancestors were so good at finding patterns among the stars- the so-called constellations- but after a trip like this one, I clearly understand why they spent their time doing so. It is so hard to ignore the greatness and majesticness of the great sky, especially when not surrounded by the distractions of modern technology and civilization. I wish I could have lived among them when the sky was much clearer due to the fact of the absence of air and light pollution. I wish I could have been among them making up stories among our true ancestors, the stars, which would continue for eternity by knowing the origin of the names of the constellations. It’s almost like our ancestors knew the genuine connection between us and the stars. It’s almost like they knew that they are our origin; that we really are starstuff. That’s why they were easily capable of finding themselves and all of their beliefs, myths, and legends among the stars. It was all because of the deep interconnection and kinship between the stars and their intellectual life-form descendants.

It wasn’t my first time to go to Wadi Elhetan. But must I say, no matter how many times I go, I’ll always feel something special about it. This time we were also very lucky, as the sky was much clearer than the first time I had visited Wadi Elhetan, so we were able to see even more stars. The telescope session we had at night was also pretty amazing, and it was my first time ever to see an actual picture of a nebula straight from a telescope. Would it be weird if I said that I feel kind of nostalgic at times like this? There’s always that feeling that my homeland is somewhere among the sky, I just get so mesmerized with it. It was a great thing to find all of my great friends around me looking straight up at the sky, trying to find different planets and constellations, talking about the origin of the names of some of them. For me, I really can’t imagine a better way to spend my time.

The best part of the trip was when I stayed up alone looking up at the sky. I had probably never felt as tranquil and at peace of mind as I did at that moment. Moments like these make me remember my main purpose in life, what made me decide that I one day want to pursue a career in physics. I want to unravel the secrets and mysteries of this universe, just for the sake of knowing the truth of what is around me. I always have a feeling of some kind of lustfulness passion for such a purpose. And for this, there is another quote that deeply inspires me, which is:

“Cosmology is among the oldest subjects to captivate our species. And it’s no wonder. We’re storytellers, and what could be more grand than the story of creation?”

―Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos

My love for science began with my love for astronomy, and really it’s quite true that astronomy and cosmology are the most directly captivating subjects in science. The night sky is above us all and can easily catch the attention of many dreamers and thinkers. I really hope that I could go on another stargazing trip soon and that everyone could appreciate the beauty just like my colleagues and I do.

Norhan Mahmoud

A heavenly smile from a divine soul

From a narrow perspective of a tiny creature on Earth, the sky did not seem interesting at all. I have always known and read about the magnificent lights of night sky, but I did not imagine it is fascinating like that. Wadi El-Hetan trip, for me, was a gate to a new world, a whole new perspective, an eye over a divine creation of God. The view of sunset and sunrise was terrific from above the mountain away from people and noise, climbing the mountain was very hard though. When night came, this is where the fun began. The thing I liked most is the heart and soul nebula, when beauty combines with chaos in harmony creating a beautiful rhyme that sings the tunes without music and paints the sky without a brush. It was more like a divine soul smiling far away in the sky. Even a tiny glimpse of Mars with its red color can put a smile on your face for the rest of the day. Moon, Venus and Jupiter cached my curious self too. I slept the night looking at the Orion belt and Sirius. The interesting thing about Sirius is that when I read about it, I found that it has a history in the Arabic culture. The whole trip made me find an interest that I did not know I had. It made me read more about stars especially the history of Astronomy and space exploration. It was a great trip. I hope we can repeat it again.

P.S.: The food was delicious too!

Name: Motasem Mahmoud Zein.

A Thousand Word

I could write a thousand word yet it would never be enough to describe my feelings about this trip. Long story short, it was one of the best trips I ever had the pleasure of being a part of. The view of the night sky alone would be enough to impress anyone, but for someone who loves astronomy as much as I do, it moved something in me, seeing the stars this way for the first time in my life. It was like a dream come true. It was an incredible feeling to learn how to spot Polaris with my naked eye, and to see Orion’s belt and the star Sirius. It was even better to see a telescope up close and watch it work as it detects the position of the star so clearly. More than that were the nebulae we saw there. Those were nothing short of magnificent. I never once dreamed I would see one any time soon, and being able to was the best gift anyone could have given me. I did not have the opportunity to see the sun through the filter in the morning as I was asleep at the time, and that is something I’ll regret forever, or at least until the next time I have the pleasure of going on a trip like this. Meanwhile, it wasn’t only about the astronomy aspects. I climbed a mountain (sort of) for the first time and got to see the sunset and sunrise from up there. Having all my friends there with me struggling together to reach the top then sitting in contemplation of our lives and this trip was another highlight. Last but certainly not least was the delicious food they served us. I’m not ashamed to say, I could go back there just to eat their food one more time. All in all, this was indeed the most amazing experience I have had in my life so far despite the freezing cold we had to endure at night.

Toka Tarek Eid

The Cuddling Silence

At first, I couldn’t see what was there to this -almost- desert. Googling Wadi El Hitan made it look like a dull place with nothing but bones of Dead Whales to offer. However, when we put our luggage and were all settled, the dull 3-hour journey to the destination was forgotten. Some of us started playing chess, and I started to scan the place with friends. It still seemed to have nothing to show us, but everything changed when we started to climb the hill. It was hard at first, and we helped each other. But, then, when we reached the top, the view was magical. I could not resist taking pictures of the sunset. A few minutes later, I learned that there was something else to appreciate; the silence. We really do not get a chance to deal with cuddling warmness of silence and solitude in the screaming big cities we live in. The view of the sunset almost made us forgot that we had to climb down before it was dark. Our friends had this crazy idea of running all the way down the hill, and it seemed really fun to do. That rush down the hill, was the closest I came to being alive. It’s what Coldplay’s song called “A rush of blood to the head’. When I thought the trip was just fun enough, it still hadn’t begun; the night had much more to offer. I didn’t really believe the sky had that much stars in it. It’s a marvelous view that I surely lack the words to describe. It’s has always been fun to hang out and talk to friends, but sitting there silently was -I believe- much more fun in an elegant way. Lying below the stars, listening to music below the stars, I guess doing anything below the stars made it great. I really wonder why is it that we like looking at stars so much. I mean, we have lights all around us, why is it that those lights are so special? Is it a kind of nostalgic longing to our original matter? Maybe, who knows?

Waleed Mustafa

Stars! When we first met

Wadi ElHitan Trip

Written by

Refat Ismail

As a child, I remember one time I was riding the car with my family. It was before sunset when I and my sister were looking at the sky which stretched everywhere above us till the horizon, with its characteristic blue color. This blue color seemed to dominate the whole universe, except for some little white patches of cloud here and there.

Suddenly! my sister said: “Dad, is that white thing in the sky, god? It is so huge !”.

I then replied hurriedly: “No, It is not! God is much larger than that.”

She then asked again: “Is it the blue thing then?”

I replied again: “No, It is not. God is much bigger.”

Since then, I was asking what lies over there. Skeptical as I am, I always refused to admit to what books and youtube videos said. I had to see for myself. I was not quite convinced that the “stars”, that they are talking about, are out there and can be seen from earth! If it were the case, then why can’t I see them? Light pollution? This seemed ridiculous to me. And I was never satisfied.

Many years after, one random day, doing my ordinary habits in university, I heard about a trip to see the “stars”. Finding myself free, I reluctantly decided to give it a chance. I got on the bus and started my trip which seemed at the moment that it would only take one day. But it turned out to be a never returning one.

Here’s the sun going below the horizon. All my senses are in full operation, eager to see the truth. WOOOW! Stars ! Billions of them! Little sparkling and glowing dots all over the sky. It is real! Stars are out there. Ohh ! This, for me, was quite unexpected. It would change my views forever. I would never look at the universe the same way again.

It is true! What those people were saying all this years. It turned out that the picture I painted for the universe in my mind was totally wrong. The universe is not earth! It is not a lively place. It is not paved streets nor high concrete towers. It is not cars nor computers nor Televisions. It is not plants nor blue skies. It is all made of fire.

All these beautiful women and handsome men, peaceful shores and quite meadows are just a great delusion. The universe is not the heart-warming and life-affirming place it seemed to be. Our universe is made of fiery balls! Large glowing fiery balls.

This shocked the foundations of my soul. It is so weird. If this is what the universe really is, then why? Why is not it made of green areas and civilized cities? It seems to me, that we, humans, are aliens. Maybe, we do not belong here! How did this fiery universe manage to have some sort of life like us? Fire, for us, is a deadly weapon.

I returned from this trip with a mind full of questions and a spirit full of enthusiasm. The only answer that I have got now is that I am still too young and ignorant and there are still a lot of secrets about this universe that awaits to be revealed. I have got to ask and wonder restlessly.

Trail of Comets

Mohamed Ayman

During my childhood and adolescence, I was fascinated by the sky. Its stars, planets, meteorites and nebulae. I was lucky, I was born and raised in Ismailia, on a place on the shore of the Suez Canal, my sky was away from the city lights, so I had the chance to see the sky wonders. I keep wondering, what if, I was raised in a place where the sky is full of smog and lights? Would I still be interested in the sky and its beauty? And the answer is always, “definitely”.

I have stared at the sky for years, but the most remarkable date is Aug 12th 2015, when I went to Valley of the whales’ area to see the Perseids meteor shower. It was remarkable. What I saw in brief: 1) Some constellations, 2) Part of the Milky Way galaxy, 3) Andromeda Galaxy, 4) Orion nebula, 5) Lagoon nebula, 6) Star trails and of course 7) The Perseids meteor shower. I was fascinated the most by the star trails, it was new to me at that time. I have always heard that ancient people used the North Star to guide them through their travels, but I never understood how, and I don’t know why till that moment I didn’t ask.

Also, one of the things I didn’t understand during my childhood, and really I don’t understand till now, but I have appreciated it more after the trip, is the names of the constellations. When I look at the sky, I don’t see a Greek hunter carrying a stick (Orion), or a lion (Leo) …etc. But, I have to admit that those names make it much easier to remember the name of the constellation once you see it again. You just need to know the name and the shape once, after that it sticks in your mind in a way that was impossible to believe. Sure, ancient people had a good imagination, to describe those constellations by these simple pictures. Orion nebula was the most beautiful of all, I saw by my own naked eyes the birth of new stars.

The main theme of the trip was to see the Perseids meteor shower, so I will start now to explain the physics behind it. First of all, a comet is a cloud of ice, gases and dust that orbits the sun. Meteor showers are caused by comets. Comets orbit the sun much further than our planet’s orbit around the sun, but every year at the same time, the earth during its orbit enter the debris left from the comet during its rotation around the sun. A meteor shower is a tiny dust and rock grains entering our atmosphere, and get burned by the friction with air molecules. Meteors leave behind a trail of vaporized gas, that’s why they appear as shooting stars.

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Images courtesy of: [https://ase.tufts.edu/cosmos/print_images.asp?id=12]

The Perseids meteor shower is caused by the comet “Swift-Tuttle”, which orbits the sun every 133 years. But at the same time every year, between the mid of July and the mid of August we enter the area of cometary debris left behind the comet during its journey around the sun. The Perseids meteor shower is approximated to 60 meteors per hour with an average speed of 60 Km/s, which is a huge speed, that’s why all meteors get burned in our atmosphere, due to high friction energy caused by the friction with air molecules, as we mentioned earlier. Some meteors manage to escape the atmosphere, and arrive at earth, and now they are called meteorites.

The reason behind the name “Perseids” is, this meteor shower, was first recorded in 36AD, it appeared to radiate from the constellation “Perseus”.

Some other famous meteor showers that hit our sky every year are: 1) Quadrantids (January 3-4), 2) Lyrids (April 22), 3) Eta Aquarids (May 5), 4) Delta Aquarids (July 28), 5) Perseids (August 12), 6) Draconids( October 8), 7) Orionids (October 21), 8) South Taurids (November 4), 9) North Taurids (November 12), 10) Leonids (November 17) and 11) Geminids (December 13).

This trip had major learning outcomes that benefited me in my journey to understand the universe. I learned the following: 1) the stars are moving in the sky except Polaris, 2) the name of star constellations, 3) How meteor showers happen and 4) How new stars are born in nebulae.

The following are some photos of the event, Image courtesy of ESA (Egyptian Society of Astronomy)

Star Trails

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Constellations

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