To the Moon and Back: Interview with Soneva Jani Astronomer Maavin Faure

A couple of weeks ago I was at the top of the Soneva Jani astronomy tower with resident astronomer Maavin Faure telling him how I’d only ever seen two shooting stars in my life. 45 minutes and one meteorite shower later, that number had quickly changed to 15, and could have been many more if we had stayed to stargaze late into the night.

Shooting stars are caused by specs of dust burning up as they fall at terrific speeds into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. On a clear night, you can see thousands of stars from the Maldives, making it the perfect spot for stargazing and astronomy.

I talked to 19-year-old Maavin about his experience of being an astronomer in the Maldives.

When did you first become interested in the night’s sky?

Ever since I was a little boy, I was fascinated by the night sky, something about the vast unknown always kept me on the edge of my seat. I think I take my curiosity from my dad, who is always wondering about how things work and why things are the way they are, an important attribute to have when you are an engineer.

How did you learn?

When I was growing up, I was a very anti-social kid. Which is not all that bad considering it gave me a lot of time to learn new stuff. That meant that when I started here, I had a head-start on it. The previous astronomers who worked here with me before were extremely helpful as well, teaching me all sorts of crazy stuff and how to make dear old boring science fun and interesting.

Which is your favourite constellation?

Before coming to Soneva Jani, I was not big into constellations, it just didn’t fascinate me as much as the science parts of astronomy. It was the previous astronomers who were here that taught me about the stories associated with the constellations. Choosing one is no easy task, but I would have to go for Orion, for the fact that he looks gorgeous in the night sky and has a lot of fascinating stories associated with him.

What can you see with the telescope at Soneva Jani?

In Soneva Jani, we have a 16” Schmidt Cassegrain telescope, which shares the title of being the largest telescope in the Maldives. She is named after Eleos, the Ancient Greek Goddess of pity, mercy & compassion. With her assistance, we can see the creators on the moon, the Galilean moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and her largest moon and so much more.

What do you teach the guests about?

Astronomy sessions here is usually paired with a dinner, (hopefully also with a lot of wine so they see more stars). What we do is, in between the courses, offer them to have a look at what’s up in the sky that night through the telescope. My sessions often involve me starting off with planets, the moon and bright stars, and usually ends with an overview of the universe as a whole.

Your favourite books on astronomy?

The book I enjoyed reading the most about astronomy has to be A Brief History of Time by the famous Stephen William Hawking. I also love 30 Second Astronomy by Francois Fressin, it’s great for beginners. Universe Martin Rees and Cosmos by Carl Sagan are really interesting too.

How do you find living on Soneva Jani?

Being from the Maldives, I’ve lived on tiny islands my entire life. Small communities where everyone knows everyone is the norm for me. Being an exclusive and privacy focused property, Soneva Jani only has a few hundred hosts, which is what I am used to. In short, living the island life is nothing new for me.

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