Construction starts on planetarium at highest global altitude in SW China's Xizang
Published: Jun 13, 2022 09:59 PM
Blueprint of Xizang Planetarium Photo: screenshot from Xizang Daily

Blueprint of Xizang Planetarium Photo: screenshot from Xizang Daily

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Xizang Planetarium, which will be at the highest altitude in the world for such a facility, took place in Lhasa, Southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region on Sunday. The facility is expected to open to the public in June 2024, which will help provide observation data for space activities, an official from the Science and Technology Department of Xizang told the Global Times on Monday in an exclusive interview.

The planetarium is being built at an altitude of about 3,650 meters above sea level, surrounded by a good environment. On the roof of the planetarium will be a refracting telescope with the world's largest diameter (1.06 meters), said Wang Junjie, a deputy head of the Science and Technology Department of Xizang. 

The telescope is expected to surpass the refracting telescope of the Yekes Observatory in the US, which has a diameter of 1.02 meters.

It's a major breakthrough as there are still some technical difficulties to overcome, and the telescope is currently being developed, Wang said, noting that the observation data will also be used with data from other facilities to calculate the orbits of objects flying through space. 

Covering a construction area of more than 11,500 square meters, the overall design is inspired by meteorites, which is full of a sense of science and technology, and demonstrates the style of modern architecture, according to Wang.

In line with the operating characteristics of high-altitude areas, the optical telescope will integrate the dual functions of scientific research and popular science, serving innovation and bringing science to the general public in the region.

The telescope is expected to be widely used, in addition to scientific purposes such as astronomical observation, and from the perspective of science for the general public, it will be more attractive due to its large size, according to Wang.

More than 100,000 people will receive astronomy science education every year at the planetarium.

"With the highest altitude and a refracting telescope with the world's largest diameter, we believe it will become a new landmark, attracting tourists from around the world," said Wang. 

"We have always stressed that the planetarium must be built as soon as possible so that children in Xizang can see that 'there are all stars in the sky'," Wang noted. 

Xizang has unique advantages for a planetarium as "the region has more sunny days in a year," Wang said, noting that the atmospheric visibility in the region is very good.

From the Yangbajain Astronomical Observatory located at an altitude of 4,300 meters above sea level, the first professional observatory in the region that was put into use in the 1990s, to the Ngari Observatory of National Astronomical Observatories in the western part of the region, the astronomical development in the region has been continuously promoted during recent years. 

There are some major planetariums in the country to arouse people's curiosity and help them understand the universe. The Beijing Planetarium was the first large-scale planetarium in China, having opened to the public in 1957 to popularize astronomical knowledge. 

In Shanghai, the Shanghai Astronomy Museum is the world's largest planetarium in terms of building scale, which features innovative architecture, tech and precious collections.