(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Dubai residents throng desert to witness meteor storm but many leave disappointed
at 2am on friday night the otherwise deserted road leading up to bab al shams resort was clogged with a long queue of cars. usually a 50-minute drive reaching the resort from the heart of the city took two hours.
it seemed thousands of interested sky gazers of diverse nationalities knew the dubai astronomy group was convening at the resort at 9pm on friday until sunrise on saturday to spot the never-seen-before meteor storm called the may camelopardalids. the expected turnout was anywhere between 500 to 1500 but even by midnight the expected figure had been humbled. people were seen streaming in even after 4am some in obvious party-wear.
according to nasa this meteor storm would result “from the dust of periodic comet 209p/linear a jupiter family comet discovered by the lincoln laboratory near-earth asteroid research project in 2004”. some forecasters predicted the meteor storm to pelt more than 200 meteors per hour.
but even people who didn’t know the technicalities or even the basics of astronomy were headed out in the desert carrying it appeared everything from foldable chairs yoga mats and rugs flashlights thermoses of tea tripods cameras and telescopes. one man even brought a guitar. women in their nighties mothers pushing strollers men with toddlers perched on their shoulders — by all accounts it was a midnight picnic in the desert with plenty of laughter and shrieking in the air regardless of whether or not anyone actually saw a streak in the north sky.
a member of the dubai astronomy group told khaleej times on friday evening that while it was possible to see the meteor shower even from the outskirts of the city — out in the wilderness of jebel ali for instance — the desert would be a good spot just as long as from your chosen spot there was no light pollution (from buildings and street lights) and the sky was clear. the idea was to look northwards toward the pole star. all through the night till the wee hours of the morning people were heading out of the city to get a better view of the promised celestial fireworks.
empty spots were hard to come by at bab al shams resort on friday night as families waited for the sky to light up. — kt photo by shihab
as traffic crawled people got off from their vehicles and started walking along the road towards bab al shams. some decided to ditch the resort and lie on the roofs of their cars as and they pulled up at any suitable spot surrounded by wild grasses night creatures and the sound of crickets imprints of their car tyres upsetting the wind ripples on sand dunes. an suv even got its tyres stuck in a dune kicking up a dust cloud as the driver pressed on the engine to budge the vehicle back onto flat road.
the resort itself was fully booked with 100 per cent occupancy on the nights of may 23 and even may 24. people had booked in advance to make the best of the long weekend and scheduled celestial sighting. whether or not anyone glimpsed the meteor shower is another matter. at 3.15am strangers on the road were heard asking each other “saw anything?”
anisha ratwani an amateur star gazer refused to lie down on the sand dunes as she didn’t want to miss the shower in case it was a blink-and-you-miss-it-phenomenon. “i’m surprised at the crowds” said ratwani who one day wants to go see the northern lights. “i thought it wasn’t enough of a mainstream event. i didn’t hear anything about it. and when i asked my cousin if she wanted to come see a meteor shower she asked me where is it ‘playing’ — thinking it was a movie.”
but for many groups of people being in the desert for a couple of hours was quite adequate. several people made the miscalculation of expecting to see bright globular clusters as soon as they arrived set up their mats and looked upwards. but patience soon started wearing thin.
families especially the hordes who came with children had to assuage the moods of the young ones who tired of running around shrieking and playing games were reduced to sleepy repeated enquiries of the meteor shower.
at 2.30am an excited cry rang out. people got up craned their necks to see if anything was visible and some people claimed they saw something move. some cried false alarm. others munched on chips. people with bulky cameras and telescopic lenses clapped and camera flashes went off and laser torches zig-zagged in the sky. for the record not everyone who went into the desert and lay on the cool sand under a sky with some clear visible constellations necessarily managed to see this well-attended supposed event of a lifetime.