Tech Talk: Chinese astronomer brings people closer to space

"As long as I see the sky is sunny and blue during the day, with no clouds, I would think that I have to go out to observe at night. Otherwise, I'd feel guilty," said astronomer Zhu Jin.

The National Science and Technology Workers Day of China is observed on May 30. CGTN sits down with Zhu, a research professor and former curator of the Beijing Planetarium, and learns about his experiences.

Zhu wears many hats in the field of astronomy – an astronomer, an astronomy enthusiast, and also a promoter of astronomy. He said what fascinates him the most about astronomy is the unknowns.

"In the vast expanse of the universe, there's still quite a lot of space left after you take the Earth out," Zhu said. "The curiosity about the unknown, I think, is a hallmark of astronomy. There are always new discoveries to be made."

The astronomer said that the nature of uncertainty in astronomy is different from that in other disciplines.

"In the present moment, we are uncertain because we are not aware. But certain things have already happened," he said, further explaining that something happened a billion years ago, but it took a billion years for the information to reach Earth and for us to know.

For years, Zhu has been committed to popularizing astronomical knowledge to the public.

"We want people to look up at the sky," he said. "And once they do, we don't really have to do much because the beauty of astronomy will attract them."

As a promotor, Zhu said what he needs to do is introduce the beauty of astronomy to the general public.

He said he has a clear idea that astronomy should be included in primary and secondary schools' textbooks as part of a formal course.

The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) drew a lot of attention after its completion in southwest China's Guizhou Province. When officials visited the Beijing Planetarium, Zhu proposed that since there were so many people visiting Guizhou, the locals needed to learn something about astronomy.

"The officials made a decision right at the spot that they would start to open astronomy classes in September that year," Zhu said. "There were about 20 primary and secondary schools that started astronomy classes that year, and there were over 50 schools offering astronomy classes by 2021."

"The children are growing. If every one of them took astronomy classes in fifth or seventh grade, over the years, everyone in this place would have studied astronomy," he said.

According to Zhu, China has a specific system of popularization from top to bottom. The Chinese Astronomical Society under China Association for Science and Technology has integrated major domestic research institutions, including observatories and universities.

"So, we can gather experts and popularizers across China to promote astronomy," he told CGTN. "If we want to organize a national event, it will be very easy."

But the astronomer thinks there are still challenges.

"I think international exchanges and cooperation may still be a problem that needs to be solved," Zhu said. "In the future, we want to connect with all kinds of people involved in astronomy education around the world. This may be particularly important for us to get more international cooperation opportunities."

Videographer: Niu Tao

Video editors: Liu Binyue, Guo Meiping

Cover image: Zhu Shangfan

Search Trends