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17 November 2014

Preparations for our Astronomy Club Toutatis Expedition in the Moroccan Sahara desert


This article is featured in Carnival of Space #380
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Kustavi, Finland

Getting ready for the ultimate astronomy adventure in the Moroccan Sahara desert. 10 days in the desert, extreme dark skies, astrophotography and meteorite expeditions. Here at the club I have been preparing for 2 months for this journey, I have learned a lot and it is all part of the outreach program of our Astronomy Club Toutatis, Kustavi Finland.

At home or on the field, research is research.
Astronomy Club Toutatis study on Meteorites 2014.
credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis.
In 2012 we visited this amazing hotel/Observatory in the middle of the desert called Sahara Sky Hotel. This Hotel/Observatory is a Moroccan fortress type hotel that has a roof top terrace filled with telescope piers and exceptional quality telescopes to observe with. The hotel in itself is remote and has a dining room, a bar and even a sauna to relax in. This year I decided to go back and expand my experience further.

Sahara Sky Observatory with your host Fritz Gerd Koring.
credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis.
Our journey will start with stargazing while one of the most spectacular meteor shower is happening, the 2014 Geminids. This should get the show started. We have also many telescopes to choose from to photograph deep sky objects, observe our solar system planets or even have a look at the Sun. For my part I will be photographing some deep sky objects for sure.  

The other part of our journey will be to hunt for meteorites in the Saharan desert near the Algerian border. This part of the journey is new to me. In 2012 the first time we went to Sahara Sky Hotel, the owner challenged us to come back soon and this time go to those ”secret” valleys where no one has gone for decades to hunt for meteorites. I took him to his word, accepted his challenge and organized this expedition.  

But first I had to do my homework...

I started to read about meteorites on the net, everything to get me started. Magnet tests, meteorite composition, Strewn field map reading. It is pretty cool science when you dig it all out at its core (literally).

At the University of Turku, Finland, I had the opportunity to visit the Geology department to see a meteorite found in the archipelago of Finland in 1971 named Häverö meteorite. This was my first meteorite and it helped me to understand more about the appearance, weight and magnetism of meteorites.

Me holding Meteor Haverö and Senior Lecturer, Deputy Head of Department
Timo Kilpeläinen from the Geology department of Uni. of Turku, Finland.
credit: S.Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis.

I also read an article about a Finnish meteorite collector Jarkko Kettunen and his trip into the Sahara desert to search for meteorites. (Issue Tähdet ja Avaruus 6/2014 Saharan kutsu).
I loved his story so I decided to contact him to ask for advice and tips. He replied to my emails with great information about places and tips on meteorite hunting. He was also so kind to send me one of his meteorite pieces from his collection to help us in identifying and getting the feel of a meteorite. I appreciated his kindness very much.

Finnish Meteorite collector Jarkko Kettunen
and the Meteorite piece given to me by Jarkko.
credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis.

Now that all our preparations are done, we just have to wait to fly over there and enjoy the trip. I am really looking forward to it. 
...
Please continue reading the next post of my Astronomy trip in the Sahara, Southern Morocco HERE
Follow the complete travel post series and enjoy the astronomy behind it.

This is all part of the public outreach of Astronomy Club Toutatis, Kustavi, Finland.

Here are useful links you want to visit.

Continue to  read earlier Series of posts on Astronomy Trip: The Sahara 2012. HERE.