Astronomer's bold dreams are coming true

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Astronomer's bold dreams are coming true

He lives with the "Star Dream," a telescope that he designed and created himself. He is Kim Ji-hyun, 33, and president of the Hyun-Am School of Astronomy. The children and adults who come to his school in the Mapo district of western Seoul hear fascinating stories and watch movies about stars -- during the daytime. When dusk falls, they cluster around the telescope that Mr. Kim built over the course of a year.

Star Dream is not just another telescope that has a lens attached to a long cylinder. A person seeing it for the first time wouldn't even know it was a telescope. It looks more like an agglomeration of all sorts of metal in all sorts of shapes and sizes -- long, short, thin, thick, round and angled. The only clue you get that it is a telescope is from a decorative piece of metal on it that is shaped like a crescent moon and star. "I got the idea to build the telescope from this book I read in my college years," Mr. Kim said. "Then I designed the telescope that I'd always dreamed of."

When Mr. Kim started making the Star Dream, the school did not yet exist, and he was working at the An-sung Astronomical Observatory.

"I had this thought that making a beautiful telescope to see the beauty of the stars would be great," he said. "That's when I started making Star Dream. I quit the job at the observatory so I could devote my time to the telescope."

Only a crazy person would quit a good job to make a telescope, many people would think. But Mr. Kim was determined to achieve his dream, however eccentric it was. When people question whether the telescope was expensive to make, because it is made of brass, Mr. Kim says: "You never ask how much the material for a sculpture costs," and laughs warmheartedly.

Mr. Kim has been fascinated by stars ever since he was a boy growing up in the Gangwon province town of Donhae. When he was in high school he got his first telescope and started to explore the universe. As a physics major at Sogang University, he was president of Korea's amateur astrology club for university students. That was when he started to get familiar with making telescopes. During those years he wrote a book about space and got acquainted with the publishing company Hyeon-am Sa. After the publication of the book, the relationship he had with the company grew.

Then, when Mr. Kim heard that the publishing company was going to repair its headquarters building in Mapo, it dawned on him that he should make this telescope and set it up on the roof. Star Dream was installed in April.

Mr. Kim's school, which Hyeon-am Sa suggested he start, has been in operation since last July. Classes are once a week and run for three months. On Thursdays Mr. Kim holds open observations of Star Dream. Some 60 students have completed the school's courses.

On good days, Mr. Kim get several e-mails from students telling him that they are happy to be able to see the stars every day. Mr. Kim says these are the happiest times of his life. But he has other plans; he wants to make a sundial and another telescope from bamboo. He also has further ideas for his rooftop observatory. "I want to make this roof into a park full of light," he said.

You can contact the Hyun-am School of Astronomy at 02-312-8120.

by Kweon Hyuk-joo

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