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Aiming for the stars

By Yang Yang | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-17 07:57

Aiming for the stars

A recent dialogue held at the National Astronomical Observatories of China in Beijing focuses on popular-science communication. [Photo provided to China Daily]

There is a growing interest in astronomy and the exploration of outer space in China. Yang Yang reports.

When 39-year-old Chen Dongni was studying cosmology in Shanghai more than 10 years ago, she could not have imagined that one day her knowledge of the cosmos would help farmers and herdsmen from the Hui, Tibetan and Uygur ethnic groups in China's remote western regions.

As the deputy director of the Beijing Planetarium, Chen now often travels to the Xinjiang Uygur and Tibet autonomous regions to give lectures to farmers and herdsmen.

"When you look at the history of astronomy-a new science subject compared with maths or physics-you realize that it has been around for a long time, used by stargazers, fortune-tellers and theologians to tell people who we are, where we are from and where we are going. It's also like a religion," she says.

"After I deliver lectures about our view of the cosmos, people are excited about a different view of how the world works. Some of them believe that the world is held up by cattle, and the sun is pulled by cattle. But whether they accept our view or not at least they know that there is more than one opinion," she says.

The lectures also teach many people a scientific way of thinking, which is also important, she says.

In recent years, Chinese have become increasingly interested in astronomy and the exploration of outer space, she says, thanks to the country's successes in space with Tiangong-1, China's first space lab, and spaceships like Shenzhou X.

The popularity of sci-fi fiction like Liu Cixin's Three-Body Problem and Hollywood movies like Gravity and Interstellar, have also helped, she adds.

Zhu Jin, director of the Beijing Planetarium, says that in the last five years, the number of visitors to the planetarium has grown by 20 percent year-on-year.

"One of the reasons is that a lot of domestic research results have come out recently, which is also drawing a lot of people to the planetarium," he says. "It's a good thing for the development of both this discipline and our country."

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