BAHRAIN is missing out on the chance to become a regional leader in space exploration because of a lack of funding, says an expert.
Dwindling enthusiasm has left the country lagging behind its neighbours and prevented it from tapping into a potentially lucrative market, warned Bahrain Astrono-mical Society head Dr Shawqi Al Dallal.
He urged the private sector to help set up a national observatory to research galaxies, stars and the solar system, which could help attract tourists and boost education in the field.
"A facility such as a national observatory will be greatly beneficial in attracting tourists as well students and will help resuscitate the flagging interest in astronomy in the kingdom," said Dr Al Dallal.
"A facility such as a national observatory will be greatly beneficial in attracting tourists as well students and will help resuscitate the flagging interest in astronomy in the kingdom."
The GDN reported in October 2008 that work on Bahrain's first planetarium had stalled indefinitely as officials attempted to get government permits for the BD78,000 dome-shaped project at The Indian School campus, Isa Town.
Dr Al Dallal said such was the lack of astronomical facilities in Bahrain that the society had no proper place to store its equipment and books.
"We need funds to build up a library and a place to store our equipment," he said. "At present we keep them either at a friend's place or my own.
"Through the years we've somehow managed through our collaboration with the Arabian Gulf University and the Youth Innovation Centre.
The scientist said the idea of an observatory was first mooted a decade ago.
"The initial plan was to build an observatory in the Hawar Islands but that was discarded as it will be too far from the mainland and would be difficult to commute to," he said.
"We're still deciding on some place to set up the observatory that is dark, away from the light pollution of the city, has electricity and is easily accessible.
"We're thinking of a proposal for private companies to help us buy a large telescope. It really is not big money and would be very beneficial to society."
Dr Al Dallal inspired Bahrain's own volume of an international dossier called the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) file.
It monitors worldwide projects searching for life in the universe, keeps track of upcoming missions and is updated in Bahrain under his guidance.
Members of the society are also part of the SETI@home project, a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
It has more than four million participants worldwide who run a free programme that downloads and analyses radio telescope data.
Dr Al Dallal said there were plans to stir interest in the search of extraterrestrials through a series of society activities in the coming months, including a lecture in October.
However, the physics professor brushed aside concerns recently voiced by theoretical physicist Stephen Hawkings that any interaction with aliens was unlikely to be peaceful.
"The planet earth will appear to extraterrestrial civilisations as a source of electromagnetic noise so there is no way to hide," he said.
"We've been using radio waves for telecommunication purposes, radar, since the 1930s and advanced civilisations are surely capable of detecting these signals and identifying their source.
"I think that an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation capable of interstellar travel must be wise enough and is surely peaceful since it solved all its planetary problems and has the time to develop advanced technologies."