Visiting one of the oldest observatories in the world

Posted by David Eicher
on Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Beijing Observatory, founded in 1442, is one of the world’s oldest astronomical observatories, Beijing, China, June 25, 2014 / Credit: David J. Eicher
On Wednesday, June 25, the International Planetarium Society meeting in Beijing, China, which has been going on for several days, started up as usual. But it wouldn’t be a usual day for long. Indeed, there were morning paper sessions presented by a variety of planetarium professionals, from a survey of customers at Adler Planetarium in Chicago to a history of planetarium projectors in China, to a call for a new committee investigating the best quality options for providing audio in new-generation planetarium shows. But after lunch, the meeting took a break for two concurrent field trips.

Half the group went to the famous Forbidden City, which I saw when I was in China for the 2009 total solar eclipse. So I opted for the other trip, to a place I had not yet seen, Beijing’s ancient astronomical observatory, one of the oldest on Earth. It was an incredible journey back in time. En route to the observatory, we stopped at the Temple of Heaven, an incredible structure surrounded by vast grounds and many outbuildings where ancient emperors came to seek advice from the almighty and to offer sacrifices and make prayers for abundant harvests. What an amazing place to see.

And then the observatory. Beijing Observatory was founded in 1442, and its many instruments, crafted from iron and bronze and still in place atop the stone building, are absolutely incredible — from celestial spheres to armillary spheres to sextants to quadrants. Here was a high-tech science center of the 15th century, and the instruments now in place on the observatory’s roof mostly date from the 17th century. Absolutely stunning!

And the observatory’s courtyard and museum displays offered far more to soak in. It was a great day for traveling back in time, and on Thursday, we will return again to the present with lots more talk about the planetarium world.

For all images from this trip, visit the Online Reader Gallery.

Related blogs:
International Planetarium Society meets in Beijing
Speaking at the IPS in Beijing

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