The Oukaimeden Observatory: a Cradle of Scientific Discoveries

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t's thanks to the Morocco Oukaimeden Sky Survey that this academic astronomical observatory in Morocco has been ranked every year since its foundation in 2007 among the top 10 worldwide in its class.

It's also thanks to the efforts of Moroccan scientists from this observatory, from which the TRAPPIST-North telescope is based and operated, that the NASA will announce on February 22nd 2017 the discovery of 7 exoplanets, 3 of which are in the habitable zone of their discovered system.

Trappist-1, a system with seven potentially habitable planets.
Thanks to NASA's Spitzer satellite and the dozens of observatories involved, we were able to determine the existence of seven planets. — Zouhair Benkhaldoun, director of the observatory.

This discovery's not only creditable to our ingenious Moroccan scientists but also to the mountainous sites suitable for astronomical observation that Morocco offers us, ranging from Rabat to Erg Chebbi (Sahara). This has permitted the discoveries, on several occasions, of astronomical phenomena, including meteor showers, shooting star shows and so on.

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This exoplanet discovery project started 4 years ago. Zouhair Benkhaldoun, president of the observatory, explains it in a few words on this video.

The Moroccan research team wanted to name one of the exoplanets and its parent star. This request being granted, they are now called Isli and Tislit in reference to the lakes with the same names and meaning fiancée and fiancée, all referring to the Amazigh legend surrounding them.

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The legend of Isli and Tislit

In addition to the geological aspects, the lakes of Isli and Tislit also symbolize romanticism in Moroccan Berber culture. This legend is inspired by the story of two lovers from the tribes of Aït Ibrahim and Aït Yazza, respectively.

Once upon a time, in the heart of the Atlas Mountains, there was a surprisingly beautiful young girl named Tislit. Having decided to take the family sheep for a walk, she met a young shepherd. They talked and laughed incessantly, but everything changed when they discovered that their tribes were sworn enemies; Isli was from the Ait Yazza tribe and Tislit, for her part, belonged to the Aït Brahim tribe.

Their love however was so intense that it didn't stop them from meeting. One day, Tislit revealed her love for Isli to the only person she could trust, her mother. Later that day, in a nearby village, Isli explained to his father that he wanted to ask Tislit, a girl from another tribe, to marry him. But none of the parents accepted this relationship, which would lead to war and devastation.

Heartbroken, Isli and Tislit met for the last time behind the hills, and it was there that the young lovers exchanged vows and finally drowned to be spared a life apart. Their flow of tears would have created two lakes (Isli and Tislit) in the Moroccan High Atlas.

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Atlas dark sky Morocco, one of the projects of the Oukaimeden Observatory

The Oukaimeden Observatory, now known for its scientific achievements and its numerous astronomical discoveries, is in fact the leader of this major citizen project: the creation of a dark sky reserve in the Toubkal National Park. This project, called “Atlas Dark Sky Morocco” (ADSM), is unique in its kind nationally and internationally.

An international dark sky reserve is an area of exceptional dark sky quality that is the subject of scientific, educational, cultural, or natural conservation. The international dark sky reserve “Atlas Dark Sky Morocco” will be the first protected area in North Africa and the largest in the world in terms of area (about 40 000km2).

Educational workshops are offered to students and residents of the Dark Sky Reserve in order to make them aware of the importance of this project.

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