While astronomy enthusiasts in many countries complain about inconveniences such as light pollution and cloudy weather, the members of the Afghanistan Astronomy Association must overcome truly dangerous challenges to view the night sky with their telescopes: Amateur Afghan Astronomy Is Risky Business – Newsweek.

Afghanistan’s war has taken a devastating toll on civilians: death, displacement, poverty. But it also affects lives in unexpected ways. For the country’s small band of amateur astronomers, exploring the universe’s deepest corners is a risk they now rarely take. The increasing encroachment of the Taliban, criminal gangs and aggressive police checkpoints means they now limit observations to the outskirts of Kabul city or their rooftops. “The places where there are the darkest skies, almost all those places are insecure,” says Ibrahim Amiri, 26, one of the youngest members of the Afghanistan Astronomy Association.

His eyes shine as he describes the high altitude and low light pollution of Badakhshan in the north and the open horizons of Kandahar in the south, both perfect regions for stargazing. “But we could be attacked by anyone [there]. Not just Taliban or ISIS, but even the local people,” he explains. “Afghans, especially villagers, are usually not very comfortable with people they don’t know or things they don’t understand.”

Yunos Bakshi standing with one of his telescopes in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Bakshi is the founder of Afghanistan’s first Astronomy Association.
Image by Jeffrey E. Stern. Afghanistan, 2013.