Fascinated by the night sky and the possibility of viewing distant galaxies, Hilmi Saleh al Kindy’s hobby as an astronomer dates back about 16 years.
His passion for astrophotography was primarily due to light pollution in Muscat.
According to Hilmi, astrophotography provided a means to combat light pollution as cameras can detect or view more details than the eye even in light polluted skies.
The difficulty in obtaining astronomy equipment in Oman inspired Hilmi to set up Astronomical Solutions Company (ASC), a telescope store in Muscat which provides solutions for professional and amateur astronomers.
The store is the only one of its kind in the Sultanate and one of the few operating in the GCC region.
Hilmi co-founded ASC in 2016 with Dr Faris al Said, his old school mate who also had similar interests in astrophotography.
As Chief Technical Officer of ASC, Hilmi says in general astronomy equipment have many broad categories. These are namely visual and photographic use, portable versus mobile use and manual versus motorised manual or fully automatic.
The list of equipment types is very broad with its endless choices.
He elaborates that beginners should stay away from supermarket toy telescopes as they generally give out very bad performance.
“The minimum a person should expect to pay for a real functioning telescope would be around RO70, anything less is probably just a toy which should be avoided. At the higher end, prices can reach tens of thousands of riyals for consumer models and can go even higher for professional models,” he adds. There are different types of equipment which are generally used.
A landscape photographer getting into astrophotography might desire to go for a sky tracker or someone interested in observing the new moon for calculating the start of the Islamic calendar will probably need a modestly sized refractor telescope.
Further, those interested in planets would need a high magnification telescope such as classical Cassegrain or a Maksutov design.
Hilmi says ASC imports all the equipment which they sell while some of them are custom made with their brand name. He says in general the market in the region is too small to justify manufacturing their own equipment.
Due to Covid-19, many have resorted to hobbies to take the place of social interaction. The pandemic in a way has been moderately helpful to their sales, he mentions.
Hilmi says approximately 40 per cent of their sales are domestic to Oman. “However, when they started out the business they knew that targeting a broader international market makes more sense than relying on local sales,” he adds.
“The Sultanate market is limited due to its population. We predict that most of our growth opportunities are international with some limited domestic growth. If the economic situation improves, then we might see an increase in domestic sales too,” he adds.
Sheer passion drove Hilmi to astrophotography. He along with late Dr Samir Kharusi, the pioneer of astronomy in Oman, was one of the early practitioners of this hobby in the region.
Once he launched ASC, his hobby took a backseat. However, he has been able to provide introductory courses and held formal classes for various astronomy events.
ASC has offered a series of free online astrophotography lectures open internationally, not just to Oman based clients.
With the pandemic, there has been very little that ASC could do in the form of actual events and they are now waiting to see what they can possibly do to promote when the situation gets better.
The main drive to promote astronomy has been through the Astronomical Society of Oman (ASO) as they have been very active. They have been trying to support ASO by contributing free repairs for their equipment, and even donate equipment. They have also offered some free training for their members.
However, ASC have taken a choice not to become actual members as they did not want the commitments involved.
The office of ASC is located at Al Khuwair.