Lost in the Stars? Not at These Nearby Observatories

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Lost in the Stars? Not at These Nearby Observatories

To view numerous stars on a winter evening is a wonderful experience. Stargazing is also a safe way to navigate through our mysterious universe. Orion (the Hunter), Taurus (the Bull) and Camelopardalis (the Giraffe) are some of the constellations that appear during the winter, and there are planets with beautiful belts as well, such as Saturn, Jupiter and Venus.

Planetary observation used to be the exclusive domain of astronomers. But now, it has become a familiar activity even for children. Consequently, many observatories in the metropolitan area are offering programs for amateurs to have fun with the newest star-watching equipment. Most of these programs are overnight courses and provide lodging, while some only last a day.

These programs are an interesting way for children to spend their winter vacation, and offer them a chance to get outside and away from hours of computer games. Here are a few observatories in and around Seoul:

Teko Observatory (www.teko.co.kr), the only private observatory in Seoul, is at Mt. Bukhan in Bulgwang 2-dong, Eunpyeong-gu. Built last year, the observatory is a renovation of a two-story house. Its dome, which is 4 meters high, contains a nin- inch-wide, high quality refractive telescope, and there is also a TV system that broadcasts celestial activity. Even though the northeast horizon is blocked by the mountain, viewing major planets and some nebulas is not a problem. The observatory is open to the public, free of charge, after 6:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of every month.

The Cosmopia Observatory (www. cosmopia.net) at Mt. Myeongji in Gapyeong-gun, Kyonggi Province is completely surrounded by mountains. Only the ceiling is open to the sky, which makes it ideal for observing constellations.

When the dome is opened, the automatic telescope adjusts to locate the stars an observer chooses. This process is broadcast through computers, which makes it possible to watch the movements of the stars inside a lecture room. An overnight program includes a lecture on celestial observations and various activities such as sunspot-watching and educational walks around the mountain. The price of the program is 50,000 won ($40) for adults and 40,000 won for students.

The Sejong Astronomical Observatory (www.sejongobs.co.kr) is housed in the Yeoju Youth Training Center in Gangcheon-myeon, Kyonggi Province. The dome boasts a 26-inch-wide reflecting lens telescope. There is also an 8-inch refractive lens telescope that can catch sunspots during the day and various telescopes inside the observatory.

Both a day program and an intensive program are offered at Sejong. In the projection room, astronomy theory classes are given for those who want more serious instruction. The intensive program is open to adults and students of all ages, and costs 30,000 won.

The Ansung Observatory (www.nicestar.co.kr), the first private observatory in Korea, is in Ganggangdeok-ri, in Ansung-gun, Kyonggi Province. The observatory is easy to get to as it is connected by public transportation. By car, it takes about an hour and a half from Seoul.

Among the newest equipment to detect changes in the celestial sphere, the observatory features the powerful 12- inch Shumit Kasegrain telescope, which has the capacity to trace even the slightest constellation movements.

Facilities in the observatory include an education center, a restaurant, a gift shop and a dormitory.

To secure a spot in one of these programs, advance reservations are required. It is a good idea to bring along a pen, a thick coat and a pair of sneakers. Also, browsing through some books or Internet sites on constellations beforehand will be a useful preparatory step in your celestial navigation.

by Chung Young-jin

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