International Symposium on Astronomical Exchange Between China and Other Countries: A Report
Dale W. Smith
Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, Ohio 43403 USA
Beijing Ancient Observatory
In the year 1442, during the seventh year of the Zheng Tong period in the reign of the Ming Dynasty, an astronomical observatory was founded in the city that today is called Beijing. The builders constructed a massive stone platform 14 meters (47 feet) tall. Long exterior stairways wound to the top, stretching past an imposing porch whose stone railing resembled a row of battlements. But the weapons atop this tower were turned to the sky - this tower was equipped with the very latest of astronomical instrumentation. An armillary sphere held up by dragons tracked the positions of celestial bodies. A gnomon tracked the movements of the Sun and measured the length of the tropical year.
In the decades that followed, successive generations of astronomers built up an impressive array of instruments to map the sky and its movements. Fashioned of bronze, ornately engraved, and marked with precise graduations, these instruments stood at the apex of naked-eye astronomy. By the time of the Qing Dynasty in 1673, the observatory had been enriched with an ornate sextant for measuring the angles between stars and with a quadrant and an altazimuth for measuring stellar altitudes and azimuths. Equatorial and ecliptic armillae also joined the parade of instruments. Set atop a base of dragons, their interlocking celestial circles turned to measure the angles between stars and planets in both the equatorial and ecliptic coordinate systems. A great celestial globe more than a meter across displayed a host of stars on its surface and provided a convenient means of tracing their movement across the sky and of calculating the times and azimuths of their risings and settings. Later in the Qing Dynasty, another ecliptic armilla was added to the array, primarily to measure true solar time.
As their instruments looked skyward, the Ming builders also looked to the courtyard below and in the 1440s they constructed the graceful Purple Hall, today wonderfully restored and resplendently appointed in a brilliant red. Inside, an array of exhibits displays the proud heritage of Chinese astronomy and a high banner in ancient Chinese proclaims the Observatory's mission in its heyday - to study the world by tracking the stars.
In 1957, during the era of Chairman Mao, a planetarium was founded a few thousand meters from what was by then called the Ancient Beijing Observatory. Stretching 23 meters (78 feet) across, surrounded by exhibit areas, verdant grounds, and a pair of small public observatories, the planetarium was designed to seat 600 and was equipped with the latest planetarium instruments.
In 1997, on the 555th anniversary of the Ancient Beijing Observatory and the 40th anniversary of the Beijing Planetarium, an international symposium convened in the Purple Hall. The symposium's theme, "Astronomical Exchange Between China and Other Countries", and the conference language - English - brought together a score of international delegates and as many Chinese. European delegates hailed from England, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and the Vatican. Asian delegates came from Sri Lanka, India, and Japan, and the remainder of the international delegates were American. The conferees represented a broad spectrum of interests, among them astronomer, museum curator, planetarian and teacher, historian and archaeoastronomer. The relatively small size of the conference, the eclectic mix of nationalities and interests, and the careful preparation and collegial welcome of the conference hosts all helped foster a lively and informal atmosphere. The days were intellectually invigorating and filled with bonds of new friendships and professional contacts.
The warm greetings of conference host Cui Shi Zhu and her staff made us feel at home even as we recovered from a 12-hour time change and 8000 miles of airplane flights. Prof. Cui is Director of both the Beijing Planetarium and the Ancient Beijing Observatory, and he serves IPS as a member of the Language Committee. Deputy Director Lin Qiao ably handled many of the conference arrangements, kept us all organized, and patiently tolerated those of us who, camera in hand, were perpetual cabooses during the various tours. Dr. Sun Xiaochun provided superb translations and bilingual commentary to link those of us who shared common interests but spoke no common language.
On the morning of the first day, we assembled at the Observatory entrance to receive our registration packets and accept a gift of books describing topics in early Chinese astronomy and celebrating the history of the Beijing Planetarium. Then we stepped through the circular threshold of the Moon Gates and entered the observatory's inner courtyard whose grounds display a fascinating collection of the ancient instruments restored and replicated. A team of skilled twentieth-century craftsmen have recreated the metalworking techniques of their forebears and fashioned working copies of the tools of the ancient tradition.
We were greeted in a formal ceremony by the Vice-Mayor of Beijing, posed for group photos, and then assembled in the Purple Hall for the opening ceremony. This session included welcoming remarks by the conference organizers and by me representing IPS. Following an opening 45 second greeting in Chinese, which I was speaking for the first time, I confined the remaining 14 minutes of my remarks to English. I described the work of IPS, the educational role of the planetarium, and the place of historic Chinese astronomy in planetarium programs. These remarks are reprinted as an appendix to this paper.
The next two days were filled with stimulating paper sessions that dealt with ancient and modern Chinese astronomy and with astronomical exchange between China and the rest of the world. Prof. Li QiBin, director of the Beijing Observatory and president of the Chinese Astronomical Society, summarized the work of modern China's 1000 astronomers and support staff at their five national observatories. Their work covers solar, planetary, stellar, and galactic astronomy. It is largely published in Chinese, but some is also published in English. He described new major projects including the construction of LAMOST (Large Aperture Multi-Object Spectroscopic Telescope), which is to be a 4-meter Schmidt telescope, and a proposed multi-dish radio telescope to be spread over a 30x50 km grid and to have a total collecting area of 1 square kilometer (!) and a resolution of 1 milliarcsecond. Prof. Ai GuoXiang, a leading solar astronomer at the Beijing Observatory, described the proposed Space Solar Telescope. A 1-meter optical telescope, it is a joint project with Germany and is slated for launch in 2002. The telescope will carry a multichannel polarizing spectrograph among other instruments and, with high spatial resolution, will search for magnetic fields as strong as 500 gauss suspected to exist in solar flares. (By contrast, the Earth's magnetic field is about half a gauss.)
We heard other papers describing efforts in contemporary astronomy education in China. Prof. Cui ZhenHua, former director of the Beijing Planetarium and now chair of the Popularization Committee of the Chinese Astronomical Society, summarized current work in astronomical outreach. In addition to university and graduate programs, popular astronomy enjoys widespread support. Many high schools have astronomy groups and some have observatories as well. Adult and school-based amateur astronomy societies number about 30.
Planetariums are numerous as well-besides the large planetariums in Beijing and Hong Kong, China has nearly 100 midsize and smaller planetariums. Built throughout the 1980s and 1990s, these facilities feature domes in the six to ten-meter range and are found primarily in schools, children's palaces, and science museums.
Some astronomical facilities are underwritten by corporations. For example, Niu Xiu Yun described her outreach programs which are underwritten by the Daqing Petrochemical Works. Their facilities include an 8-meter planetarium, an observatory with a 20 cm refractor and teaching facilities, and a second observatory with a 16-inch Meade computer-controlled telescope equipped with a CCD camera supported by a Pentium 586 for data reduction and linked for image transfer to a large multifunction hall. The latter observatory sits atop a beautiful tower whose exterior is adorned with constellations.
Many papers covered aspects of historic Chinese astronomy. Prof. Chen JiuJing (China) described differences between the traditional Chinese lunar mansions and those of southern Chinese nationalities - they divided the lunar ecliptic into 28 mansions; many were named for animals but some were named for daily objects and all were related to influences of the Moon as it passed through them on its monthly circuit. Zhao XiQun (China) explained the work of the second century astronomer Zhang Heng, who developed theories of an infinite evolving universe that were quite different from the more static and finite models prevalent in the West. Cai Nima (China) told of the Shangdu Observatory. Founded in 1272 in Mongolia, it used a yurt-like structure that may have inspired the ornate domes later built farther west in Samarkand. Qi Jing (China) showed a fascinating connection between star names and names of writing ink used in the Ming Dynasty. Prof. Han YanBen (China) described how records of eclipses as far back as 300 BC can be used to measure the secular slowing of the Earth's rotation. They show the day lengthening by 2.4 milliseconds per century, consistent with the slowdown rate expected from tidal friction.
Further papers explored connections and contrasts between Chinese and European, Indian, or Japanese astronomy. Dr. Ichiro Hasegawa (Japan) described the 7th century work of Priest Min; inspired by study in China, he was the first recorded Japanese astronomer. Dr. Ramatosh Sarkar (India) emphasized the contrast that Indian astronomy absorbed more Greek influence and was ecliptic-based, whereas Chinese astronomy was more equator-based. Lin Qiao (China) showed another contrast: the Chinese mythological organization of the sky was a well-organized society and centered on the pole star, whereas the Greek placement of myths in the sky had no systematic organization. Dr. Katalin Barlai (Hungary), reporting collaborative work with I. Ecsady, showed yet another contrast: Chinese constellation mythology is based on themes of community, whereas Greek myths feature the actions of individuals. But sharing same latitude, the two cultures both saw the same sky and their constellation mythology shares common themes - for example, their stories explaining the antipodal positions of Orion and Scorpius both have a theme of conflict. Dr. Juan Casanovas (Vatican) explained that the Jesuits brought to China the Tychonic rather than the Copernican planetary model because they used Tycho's tables of planet positions, which were the most accurate available.
Some papers focused on single cultures. Prof. R. Subramanian (India) described many aspects of historical Indian astronomy and Amalendu Bandyopadhyay (India) focused on the diverse computational work of the 19th century astronomer Samanta Chandrasekhar. Dr. Clive Ruggles (England) explained evidence that prehistoric stone circles in Britain may have been placed to give intervisibility between sites and to use horizon features as lunar markers.
A pair of papers ranged over a variety of cultures. T. C. Samaranayaka (Sri Lanka) gave a evocative description of the achievements of early skywatchers and Dr. George Reed (USA) outlined three stages - primitive wonder, practical use, and advance of knowledge - in the motivation for engagement with the sky.
Several papers dealt with planetariums and education methods. George Reed (USA) emphasized the role of smaller planetariums as a classroom. Takatsugu Yoshida of Minolta (Japan) described many of the subtle sky cycles the new Infinium projector can demonstrate. Kyoji Saito (Japan) explained a portable planetarium dome he has designed. Jeanne Bishop (USA) described a Starlab cylinder she designed based on ancient Chinese sky figures. Dr. R. Ramakarthikeyan (India) demonstrated a variety of participatory human models of teaching astronomy and Prof. S. Gopinath (India) outlined the last half-century of progress in Indian astronomical research and education.
The paper-session days were also filled with a variety of other activities. Lunch on the first day was a Chinese banquet. Serving after generous serving of Chinese food appeared at our tables; rice and tea were just the beginning, and we feasted on a wide variety of meats, vegetables, and seafood, some familiar, many - such as eel - more exotic. The next day lunch featured a McDonald's carry-in and the following day we lunched with the Colonel (Kentucky Fried Chicken). We wondered if Pizza Hut was next in line, but (gratefully, to my palate at least) we returned to generous Chinese lunches the last two days.
We were treated to Chinese opera the first evening. Though my body protested from jet lag, my mind was alert to the brilliant colorful costuming and was intrigued by the stories hidden for me behind the veil of a language of unfamiliar sounds and a music of unfamiliar harmonies. Most of all, I was left incredulous at the maze of multiple baton-passing by hand and foot without a single miss!
The conference dates (Sept. 15-19, M-F) included the night of full moon before the autumnal equinox. So we returned of an evening to the Ancient Observatory courtyard for a sumptuous Chinese buffet and an Autumn Moon Festival of song and dance. Though we visitors could not follow the words, we were charmed by the warmth of the adult musicians and by the beauty of their sound, and we were amazed at the young children who exuded such talent and stage presence. Then came the karaoke time, and after hearing the rich voice of our new friend Cai Nima of inner Mongolia, we Westerners gathered our courage and sang Happy Birthday to the Planetarium and Ancient Observatory.
We also knew that an eclipse of the Moon loomed later that night. At the invitation of Li Bing, six of us piled in taxis to the observatory at the Hai Dian Youth Science and Technology Center, where she teaches. The Center serves 200,000 students from dozens of primary and middle schools throughout Beijing. We toured the new observatory under construction and examined an impressive gallery of astrophotos. First contact came around midnight, and we watched the eclipse unfold from the roof-top skydeck amidst the silhouettes of enthusiastic students and their telescopes trained on the moon high above the nightscape of Beijing. By 2 a.m. our body clocks were screaming at the near all-nighter just two days out of home 12 time zones away! A speedy taxi ride across Beijing brought us to the hotel and an early wake-up just four hours later.
After the paper sessions ended early Wednesday afternoon, the third day of the symposium, we bade farewell to the Ancient Observatory and moved to the Planetarium, its facade festooned with banners to celebrate its 40 years of astronomy education. We toured the exhibit halls that surround the dome. Although few of the international delegates could read the language, the images of the planets and the cascading stages of star life were scenes familiar to us all. Then we entered one of the world's most capacious planetariums. Recalling that volume goes as the cube of the radius, it was sobering to realize that this 23-meter dome could hold nearly eight times the volume of my mere 12-meter dome. After time to look around, we were treated to a show on the search for life in the Universe. While the narration was naturally in Chinese, it was easy to follow the images from Earth to Mars to the stars, to enjoy the variety of special effects, and to appreciate that though languages and continents may separate us, a curiosity about common questions can serve to unite us. We then turned to the domes of the other kind, a pair of observatory domes with telescopes for public viewing, and had time to enjoy the tree-lined grounds as well.
The last two days were filled with sightseeing and tours. On Thursday morning we motored to the lakeside Huirou Solar Observatory where we saw a model of the Space Solar Telescope being tested. A daring tower which is more sturdy than its slender appearance might suggest is technical base and pedestal for a solar telescope set on the roof above. An observatory dome rolls away from the telescope to an overhanging storage ledge. The stunning setting amidst lake, mountain, and small villages made a strong contrast to the busy streets of Beijing. We continued north toward the Great Wall, but first stopped for lunch in an enormous restaurant occupying the entire second floor of a huge Friendship Store whose capacious ground floor is a superbly stocked retail area. Soon we arrived at the Great Wall, walked along its crest as it undulated across the green mountains, posed early and often for pictures with each other, and marveled at the magnitude of even this small portion of the Wall we had all heard of but were largely seeing for only the first time. The bus rides and meals of the day were time to talk and secure new bonds of friendship.
We spent the last day, Friday, at two of the great sights of Beijing, the Forbidden City in the morning and Temple of Heaven in the afternoon. Temples and shrines rose above enormous courtyards. Dragons, lions, and a sacred menagerie of symbols animate and inanimate gave meaning to the buildings and spaces. Long stone walkways connected the various temple complexes. We stood among a set of the defining structures of one of our planet's great and enduring cultures.
Too soon, our time together in China was at an end and we spread out to wing our separate ways home. But we had spent time in a land where modern astronomers and planetarium educators are building in a twentieth-century way on the rich heritage of those who came before. We met dedicated, talented, and enthusiastic planetarians who are busy sharing the wonders of the cosmos with their classes and audiences in creative and innovative ways, and who are eager to reach out and build bridges across what could be barriers of language and culture. We came home enriched by what we had learned and inspired by knowing new friends and colleagues in a land that a week earlier had seemed far away.
Welcoming Remarks Delivered to the Symposium
Good morning. It is a privilege for each of us to be here. On behalf of the International Planetarium Society, it is a pleasure to salute the work of the Beijing Planetarium and the Ancient Beijing Observatory and to bring greetings to you all. In my remarks, I will address the planetarium as a resource for astronomy education and will relate it to the content of this conference. First I will briefly describe IPS and its work.
IPS and its work
IPS is the worldwide organization of planetarium professionals. Founded in 1970, it has grown to a membership today of nearly 800 planetarians representing 35 countries and six continents. In addition, eighteen smaller regional planetarium associations in Europe, Asia, and North America are currently affiliated with IPS. IPS is governed by an Executive Council composed of the elected officers and representatives of the regional affiliates.
The current IPS President is Thomas Kraupe of Munich, Germany, and he sends his greetings to you all.
IPS and its regional affiliates serve their members with a wealth of conferences, publications, and other resources. IPS publishes a quarterly journal, the Planetarian, now in its 26th year.
IPS publishes two major biennial directories. One is the IPS Directory of the World's Planetariums, a comprehensive listing of all planetarium facilities known to us. The other is the IPS Resource Directory, a listing of hundreds of companies and organizations providing products and services of interest to planetarians.
IPS also produces occasional Special Reports, and with the advent of electronic communication, IPS is developing a comprehensive World Wide Web site.
Recently, IPS began a service to provide members with slides of very current images from space missions and the Space Telescope, and plans for a corresponding timely distribution of video clips are also being made. These services are provided in cooperation with the Space Telescope Science Institute and JPL and with the regional affiliates.
Together with the officers, a network of committees performs much of the society's structural work and responds to timely opportunities. For example, a new initiative in planning is the Partnership Committee. We hope to facilitate twinning efforts between planetariums across national boundaries, and to help match resources with areas of need. We have recently inaugurated Astronomy Link, a roster of research astronomers who are available to answer questions from their planetarium colleagues. Other committees or subcommittees include those for finance, elections, awards, outreach, language, publications, lasers, technology, astronomical accuracy, and the web.
The flagship activity of IPS is the biennial conference. Held in even-numbered years at planetariums around the world, these conferences bring together several hundred planetarium professionals. Recent conference sites have included Borlänge, Sweden in 1990; Salt Lake City, USA in 1992; Cocoa Beach, Florida, USA in 1994; and most recently, Osaka, Japan in 1996. The Osaka conference featured lively accounts of planetarium and science centre work across Asia, including Japan, China and Hong Kong, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as papers given by planetarians from Europe, North America, and Australia.
The forthcoming 1998 conference will be held next year in London, England, UK from June 28-July 2. In addition to paper, poster, discussion, and workshop sessions, this conference will feature visits to Stonehenge and Greenwich and a post-tour to astronomical sites in Ireland. We are also hoping to provide remote interactive access to parts of the conference for members unable to travel to London. We hope you will consider attending. If you are interested, please see me for further information.
The year 2000 conference will be held in the Planétarium de Montréal in Montréal, Québec, Canada, and we are currently considering proposals for the 2002 conference site.
Planetariums and Astronomy Education
Founded as star theatres in the 1920s, planetariums have diversified in the last generation to become major centers of astronomy and science education. The star projector which guards the center of every planetarium has been joined in most midsize and larger facilities by one or more of a host of other projection systems, such as automated banks of slide projectors, a variety of special visual effects projectors, whole-dome graphics projection, whole-dome color laser systems, one or more video projectors, multichannel sound systems, large format film projectors, new dome-filling seamless digital video systems, and audience response systems.
All these systems have served to expand the educational potential and mission of the planetarium. With their use guided by the educational vision of the director, these tools can help convey both the content and the excitement of an enormous range of astronomical and other scientific themes, and they can do so in a way that attracts and appeals to audiences of the 1990s and beyond. Planetariums can report the latest results from the depths of space, they can retell an ancient sky legend in a captivating way, and they can display the timeless beauty of the starry sky.
Planetariums now serve public audiences and school classes in at least 82 countries around the world. They are found in schools, in colleges and universities, in science centers and museums, and as stand-alone facilities, and an increasing number of portable planetaria are joining the world's 2000 fixed domes. Planetariums range from small, one-person facilities in schools to large, high-tech facilities in science centers. Together, the world's planetariums serve more than 40 million visitors a year, and so they are powerful centers for bringing astronomy to the public.
Though planetariums are evolving into diverse multimedia theatres, a central component of their worldwide appeal lies in the sight of dark star-filled sky that planetariums alone among public theatres can project and teach. The sight of this sky is the common heritage of all our diverse cultures. The sight of this sky was the template on which all ancient astronomy was built and is the foundation from which modern astronomy has grown.
Planetaria and Chinese astronomy
The people of China, both ancient and modern, have responded to this sky. Most of us who teach astronomy or run planetaria have recounted the story of the "guest star" whose record in Chinese chronicles of the year 1054 inspired the modern discovery of the Crab Nebula supernova remnant. Today, the 20th century successors of these ancient Chinese astronomers are conducting their own active supernova search program at the Beijing Observatory. Planetariums can tell the story of both.
Many of us in the West have pointed out the Milky Way and the stars Vega and Altair, and then told the touching Chinese story of the lovers Chih Nu, Goddess of Weaving, and Ch'ien Nu, royal herdsman, who for neglect of their duties were banished to opposite banks of the heavenly river. Planetariums are superbly equipped to share with the world the astronomical heritage of ancient cultures such as China, and many planetarium programs have already done this. For example, a program on ancient Chinese astronomy was among those developed in an astronomy/mythology series in the late 1980s in the US and distributed to all 50 states for use by educators. More recently, as we will hear in a talk by Dr. Jeanne Bishop later in the conference, a projection cylinder for portable planetariums has been developed to show the Chinese constellations on the starfield.
Because the sky is international, so too is the planetarium, and so too are very many planetarium educators. IPS seeks to reflect and embody this international and multicultural viewpoint. Among our current major goals are:
(1) to expand the international diversity of our membership; for example, it is our goal that planetarians in China and across Asia will become part of IPS. In this way, we may more easily share our resources and insights with each other, and enhance our work as astronomy educators.
(2) to foster more international exchange among our members so that members in each country learn more of the rich heritage of astronomy in other nations and learn from the planetarium methods of their international colleagues.
(3) to promote contacts between IPS members and professionals in closely related fields, such as research astronomers and other science educators.
The planetarium is a natural medium for conveying to an international public many of the topics to be discussed in this symposium. Planetarians are among the participants in this conference, and many of our colleagues at home would also be interested in various aspects of the work presented here, and perhaps incorporating them into their educational programs. Collaboration between planetarium educators and delegates to this symposium can be mutually beneficial, and IPS seeks to encourage and promote such cooperation.
Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to an exciting conference.
Reprinted (minus photographs) from the Planetarian, Vol 27, #3, September 1998. Copyright 1998 International Planetarium Society. For permission to reproduce please contact Executive Editor, Sharon Shanks.