BEST 4 observatories in Gyeonggi Province for a unique vacation

Createdd 2013-08-21 Hit 496



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The View of the Moon and Jupiter from Nuri Observatory

Have you ever been to an astronomical observatory?

How about visiting one this summer? Especially if you have a little child. Water parks are good, and so are valleys and mountains and seas; but observatories are absolutely essential to develop childhood dreams. What’s more, this year is the best golden chance in 11 years for solar observation.

However, many people are not able to go because there is not enough information on where they can find an observatory. This is why people have a tendency to think that observatories are more “unique” compared to other cultural, tourism and leisure facilities.

So at least from this moment on, we will solve the problem with this posting for the people in the Gyeonggi Province area. As people might want to visit an observatory to see the sun this year, let us introduce observatories easy to access and each of representative observatories placed in the northern, central, and southern areas of Gyeonggi.

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Why this year? The first solar maximum in 11 years, the great truth of the sun

This is the sun seen through a refracting telescope. They say you must visit the observatory on a starry night, but actually you can find a great opportunity for solar observation in the daytime as well. If you look closely into the sun, there is a truly incredible secret.

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The pillar of fire, also referred to as prominence spewed from the surface of the sun, is an enormous blaze that is literally boiling over. The black spots like freckles on the face of the sun are called sunspots; and the number of these spots, whether many or few, influence the temperature of the Earth. Also, the invisible yet tremendous thermal energy gushing out as if the sun is spitting out hot waves of breath is called solar wind. That wind always rages toward the Earth, but we cannot feel it because the Earth is protected by the magnetic field. Yet its force is so great that a whole city have once suffered a power outage due to the strong solar wind. The aura phenomenon also results from that.

Once you realize the fact that a single change in the sun may bring a great change to the Earth, you will find each and every detail of the sun mysterious.

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If you are not aware of this incredible fact, you will come back home with nothing but disappointment from the observatory. At the observatory, we cannot see Andromeda or the Milky Way that we have seen in magazines or on TV. We may have to go to a satellite or join NASA to see those things properly. But fantasy undoubtedly exists. What you see at the observatory may actually be smaller than your fantasy, but here you will realize the fantasy of the truth you had not known. Once you properly capture the true nature of the sun, you will feel great significant in every single detail, even a pillar of fire and freckle.

Furthermore, 2013 is the year of solar maximum. The solar activity in the 11-year solar cycle becomes activated, and this year is the climax of the 11 years. If you visit an observatory this year, you will be able to properly see more solar prominences and sunspots than any other time. If you miss this year, your next chance will be in 2024.

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Can’t go because you can’t find one? There is currently more than 50 observatories nationwide and 10 in the province with the boom after the ecominoc crisis in the late 1990s.

Actually there are many places to go. Observatories were very rare in the 1990s, but that was then. “At the moment, I can think of more than 50 citizen observatories in Korea and name over ten in the capital area only,” says Gang Bong-seok, a doctor at Nuri Observatory. 

“Only in Gyeonggi Province, there are observatories such as Gwacheon National Science Museum Observatory, which is the largest in Asia; Seongnam Joongwon Children’s Library Observatory that was built three years ago; the observatory in Siheung Agriculture Technology Center; Songam Observatory which is famous for its great facilities; Yangpyeong International Observatory; Anseong Observatory with time-honored fame; Anseong Machum Observatory that has been built recently; Ilsan Children’s Observatory with its robust academic curriculum; two resort pensions that run small observatories; and many others. There are also quite a lot of observatories in the Gangwon region near Seoul or Gyeonggi Province.”

“Then we can find nearby observatories without much difficulty as long as we have the right information about any one of 31 cities and counties, right?”

“Private observatories created a national boom around 1997. Once I got a phone call from a region far away that he wanted to visit our observatory, and I told him that there is another observatory near where he lives. He said he did not know that, and thanked me for telling him.”

Ironically, observatories became more popular after the economic crisis in the late 1990s. As the economy improved, a leisure boom that is quite different from the past was spawned, including the desire to see the stars. The demand for observatories is actually proportionate to the income of a nation; and there is a dilemma that if the economy and industries flourish, the light pollution makes it even more difficult to see the stars. This is another factor that enhanced the necessity for well-equipped and specialized observatories. We still have a long way to go compared to Japan which has more than 100 observatories, but as the number of observatories in Korea is also increasing and there are also ardent starenthisiasts creating mobile observatories on trucks, Korea’s astronomical business is anticipated to further develop in the future. 

Dr. Gang says observatories exist not only as independent facilities but also as part of libraries, science centers, resort pensions, and agricultural technology centers. You may have given up on visiting an observatory as you thought it is too far away, but perhaps you will find one just a couple of minutes away right in your neighborhood.

Where to go? Four recommended places in Gyeonggi Province

Let us introduce four observatories to you: the most famous one in Gyeonggi Province, the biggest one, the most recently established one, and the free observatory closest to the subway. It is regionally well distributed in the northern, central and southern areas of the Province.

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The most famous place – Songam Space Center! A date in a cable car? The famous observatory of Gyeonggi Province

If you live in the northern region of Gyeonggi Province, this is right place to go. Located in Jangheung-myeon, Yangju, Songam Space Center (Songam Observatory) is famous for its cable cars. It is one of the most well-known observatories in Korea, and its website even has made a separate page to post all the records of press publicity.

“It has great facilities, and the romantic idea of riding the cable car adds more attention as a good dating course,” Dr. Gang Bong-seok comments about Songam Observatory, adding that “This is actually a private observatory established by Hanil Iron & Steel. The only downside is that the good facilities made the entrance fee quite expensive.”

Songam Space 
Directions – Take subway Line 3 and get off at Gupabal Station Exit 1 by; Take the bus (350,351,15,15-1) and get off at Songam Observatory Three-Way Intersection
Star Pass(observatory, 1 round-trip cable car ride, 1 entry of planetarium): adults KRW 28,000, elementary/middle/high school KRW 25,000, age 4-kindergarten KRW 22,000
Closed Mondays / Entry allowed until 19:00 (20:00 on Saturdays) / Contact 031-894-6000

The most recently established place – free until the second half year, the new Anseong Machum Astronomical Science Museum

Newly established in March in the southern region of Gyeonggi Province, Anseong Machum Observatory is a new tourist attraction with an investment of KRW 4.25 billion. It is open for free until the second half year for publicity, which may be why the reservation is already full for the next week. This place has 12 telescopes including a refracting telescope with Korea’s largest aperture of 300mm and a reflex telescope. The refracting telescope enables you to precisely observe even the stripes of Saturn. Located in Anseong Machum Land, there are many other places to visit such as Namsadang Concert Hall, a year-round snow sledge park, and the grass square.

Anseong Machum Astronomical Science Museum
Directions – Take the subway and get off at Pyeongtaek Station; Take the bus (50,55,55-1,70,370,370-1,380) to Anseong Terminal, and a taxi from there
Closed Mondays / Free until the second half year / Contact 031-675-6975

The biggest place – Gwacheon National Science Museum Observatory, the largest in Asia

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Look around the observatory. It looks great just looking at the photos, right? It’s the main telescope of Nuri Observatory located in Gunpo. The image of the sun you just saw was also captured by this telescope. This telescope is a 200mm refracting telescope that can theoretically observe 100 million light years away.

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These photos of Jupiter and satellite (left) and total lunar eclipse (right) are images identified by this telescope. The market price of this telescope is approximately KRW 100 million, and it can capture the Andromeda galaxy and even the external galaxy on a nice day without light pollution.

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They also have a few auxiliary telescopes. The one you see right now costs millions of won. This is a mobile telescope mostly used to observe stars outdoors.

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The dome is open and the observation program is held every week from Tuesday to Saturday. It is closed on Sunday and Monday. The astronomical observation at night is at 7 p.m. in the summer and 7:30 p.m. in the winter, and the solar observation is at 2:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday for an hour. You can make reservations via phone from 9 a.m. every Tuesday.’

“You have to be on standby on the dot. A week’s reservation becomes full in only 15 minutes.”

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The planetarium is good enough to provide vicarious gratification in case it is difficult to observe through a telescope due to bad weather. It shows the constellations as they are. What’s more amazing is that they provide an explanation of the effects of light pollution so simply. All the stars disappear as the surrounding lights become brighter, showing how great the effects of light pollution are compared to smoke pollution.

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It is a 4D movie theater reminding you of the memory of watching constellation films in the observatory theater long ago. Children love it; they are children in the neighborhood who visit every day. The movie program changes every six months.

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The exhibition hall made to offer interesting experiences for visitors of all ages and both genders, with stories of the space and various audiovisual materials about the excellence of Korea’s ancient astronomy including Cheomseongdae as well as contributions of scientists worldwide.

Two men speak of the educational value of observatories— “People must visit when they’re young, because…”

I first met the universe in a cartoon encyclopedia in childhood. The knowledge I obtained from books has become precious assets for me to make a living as a writer. When observatories were rare, I luckily found out there was one in town at the age of nine. I still have strong memories of watching films about constellations. Those were childhood treasures that bring comfort now and then as I live. In fact, this is what I truly want to tell you from this story of observatories. I want all children to enjoy the same experiences and emotions as I did. The conditions are well shaped for you to visit observatories around you, so why miss the opportunity?
Embracing the universe in childhood is an evidence of seeing a greater world compared to others. Finding dreams quickly and developing them prove that a person is growing.

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There is another man I met here who loves the universe: Dr. Gang Bong-seok. He became an astronomer when he saw a sea of stars during a trip to Ganghwado when he was high school student. When I asked “the reason to visit observatories in childhood,” he answered: 

“As no one dislikes stars, people all are interested in astronomy. However, there is no way for them to learn properly so they have to teach themselves through films or stories, but unfortunately, much of them are incorrect. They must visit observatories in order to learn exact knowledge. Once they realize the nature of the universe, they can see the world in a broader view. Humans grow from that. A single experience here can be much more helpful than reading a hundred books.”

If an observatory seems like a jewel box because it is hard to be found, it is not true. However, if it seems like a jewel box because of the value of discoveries and explorations here, it is true.
If you have not visited an observatory just because you did not know where it is or how to start to find one, or there was no information available, why don’t you start a long-forgotten journey to the universe at an observatory after reading this article?

Written & photographed by Gwon Geun-taek (reporter)