The Atlantic

The Middle East’s Growing Space Ambitions

“Very few people could name an Arab astronaut or scientist, even in many Arab countries.”
Source: Kamran Jebreili / AP

More than a thousand years ago, Islamic scholars and thinkers embarked on an exciting period of scientific study. They translated Greek and Sanskrit works on astronomy into Arabic and used them to develop their own methods for observing the mysterious heavenly bodies twinkling in the night sky. They recorded the movements of the sun and the moon. They calculated the diameters of the Earth and the planets they could see from the ground, and pondered their place in the universe.

It’s this period, the Islamic “Golden Age,” which stretched from the eighth century until about the 14th century, that is often invoked in discussions of astronomy in the Middle East. Sometimes, these historical achievements in the Arab world overshadow the region’s modern-day contributions to the field, like the Qatar Exoplanet Survey, which joined the worldwide search for planets beyond our solar system in 2010. History has recorded the great medieval astronomers, but so far taken little notice of recent ones, says Jörg Matthias Determann, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar.

“There’s little awareness of scientists in the Arab world—and especially compared

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