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A Guided Tour of Shanghai Astronomical Museum
20/11/2006 15:31


The main building of Sheshan observing station, a French-style construction built by French Mission Catholique in 1900.

Leave the traditional guided walks behind and strike out at your own pace with a tour guide to 10 science museums in Shanghai. You are about to embark on an exciting journey of Shanghai Astronomical Museum. This guide is presented by Shanghai Daily and supervised by the Shanghai Science and Technology Committee.

With stars twinkling in the dark sky, the mysterious Milky Way streams above us. When you gaze up at night, do you feel the serenity of the stars? Are your curious about the cosmos?

Today, let's walk through the Shanghai Astronomical Museum atop scenic Sheshan Hill in Songjiang District. Let's lose ourselves in the history of Chinese astronomy, the glittering stars and mankind's efforts to unlock their secrets.

In the first exhibition hall, the theme is -- time.

The first thing you see is a model of one of China's early observatories in Henan Province. It was built by astronomer Guo Shoujing in the twelfth century to observe the sun and stars to determine the 24 Solar Terms.

Now walk straight ahead. On your right are two replicas of water clocks from the Han and Qing dynasties. Also known as clepsydra, the water clock is an ancient device for measuring time by the gradual flow of water. Clepsydra were used to time speakers, lawyers and actors in ancient Greece.

Walk through the corridor, and you will see a prismatic astrolabe invented by a French astronomer in the 1950s. The first astrolabes were medieval instruments used to measure the altitude of the sun and celestial bodies. Today we use sextants.

To your right is a special scale. Curious about your weight on different planets? Just stand on it and press the desired planet to see your¡°space weight¡±-- based on different planets' different gravitational pulls.

Timing systems are essential for modern war. To the left of the astrolabe, you can play a video game of rocket intercepter to better understand the key role of timing in military operations.

Next are some highly accurate timekeepers: the astronomical pendulum clock, the quartz clock, the global-positioning-system clock and the hydrogen maser or atomic clock.

The most accurate is the hydrogen maser -- note the model made by the observatory. An atomic clock gains or loses less than a second in millions of years.

Up ahead is an instrument that can check and calibrate your wristwatch.

On the left wall is a video screen where you can play a game and find out if you can land on Mars before the designated time.

Walk along the path and you can see the main building of the Sheshan Observatory. It was built in the French style by French Catholic missionaries in 1900.

In this area, the exhibits focus on astronomical exchanges between China and foreign countries.

Now walk up the stairs and enter the room on the second floor. It contains exhibits about the introduction of Western astronomy to China. On the wall are pictures of China's astronomical pioneers Xu Guangqi, Li Shanlan and Matteo Ricci.

Picture 101 shows Xu Guangqi, born in Shanghai in 1562. He was a senior government official believed to be the first person in China to learn and introduce Western knowledge. Picture 102 shows Xu Guangqi and Italian missionary Ricci. It was from Ricci that Xu acquired Western mathematics and science.

In front of you is a glass case containing a copy of the calendar of the Chongzhen Emperor. It was completed in 1634 by Chinese and foreign scientists under Xu Guangqi. It was comprised of 137 volumes, covering knowledge about the calendar and astronomy.

On the right wall are two illustrations of the moon and Jupiter taken from the calendar.

In the second section are old photographs showing the founding of this observatory. At the end of the 19th century, French missionary Stanislaus Chevalier bought a 40 centimeter double-refracting telescope from France and began to build an observatory on Sheshan Hill to house it.

The third section displays astronomical instruments and photographs.

The case on your right shows China's first photo of a solar eclipse. It was taken by this observatory on January 14, 1907. You can even see sunspots.

On the wall behind you are pictures of comets taken by the same telescope in the early 20th century, including Morechouse's Comet and Comet Brooks.

The fourth section introduces distinguished figures in the early history of the observatory. You will see Stanislaus Chevalier in picture No. 121. He was the first director of Sheshan Observatory and received the Chinese name Cai Shangzhi. He drew the nearby pictures of Jupiter through his own astronomical observation.

Others honored in this section are French priest Yan Yuefei and Chinese astronomer Gao Pingzi who died in 1970. A crater on the moon is named after him.

The fifth section illustrates development of Sheshan Observatory after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. In photo No. 131, an old man observes Halley's Comet with young astronomy-lovers. He was Li Heng, who died in 1989. He was the first director of the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory. It includes both the Xujiahui Observatory and Sheshan Observatory.

On the right wall is a portrait of Chinese astronomer Chen Zungui, who died in 1991. Some of his writings lie in the nearby case.

Walking through the corridor and entering the next room, you see a Prin meridional instrument purchased in Paris in 1925. It is a special telescope to measure time by observing the stars. The room you are in now was the old observing room -- and its roof could be opened. Now the roof is sealed and the ceiling is painted like a night sky spangled with stars.

Walk out into the encircling corridor. On the right side you will see telescopes used in different eras. The left wall is hung with pictures depicting the six great discoveries of Galileo. They changed people's concept of the cosmos -- and provided evidence for Polish astronomer Copernicus' theory that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun -- not the other way around.

Now, please go upstairs. The third floor houses the museum's century-old treasure -- the huge 40-centimeter refracting telescope. It is still used occasionally on clear nights to view special phenomena and to show budding astronomers and schoolchildren.

The telescope and the retractable dome above it cost nearly 100,000 francs when they were put into operation in 1901. Despite weighing over three tons, the telescope can be rotated to target different planets and celestial phenomena.

It also takes photographs, since astronomers today observe the skies mainly by taking pictures. Since the middle of the 20th century, celestial bodies invisible to the naked eye have been captured on film -- these include dark stars, comets, comet vapor tails and nebulas.

Photographs taken by the telescope are displayed in cases.

We hope you enjoyed your visit to the Shanghai Astronomical Museum.

The museum is atop Western Sheshan Hill in Songjiang District.

It's open from 8am to 6pm.

Although the museum has no admission charge, the fee is 30 yuan to enter the hill area.

Several buses can bring you here -- they are on the Nanshe Line, Hunshekun Line, Shangshe Line, Hucheng Line and Shanghai Line.