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Su Hong: Forever follower of stars
Yunnan Culture & Tourism Times 2020-11-24 18:56:44

From primordial times on, human beings have been curious about the starry sky, and their exploration to the universe never stops. In Yunnan, there lives a zestful observer of stars, who looks up to the infinite of the universe. By sharing with others the wonders and mysteriousness of the starry sky, the astronomer has made himself a coolest star watcher. He is Su Hong, president of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Yunnan. 

Watching stars for 30 years 

When Halley’s Comet last returned to the inner solarsystem in 1986, Su Hong was a student at the Kunming No. 12 High School. Holding a monocular telescope, Su witnessed the world-famous comet’s return. As the tailing-off comet was sweeping past the horizon, Su was almost speechless from over-excitement, with his palm sweating hard. Henceforth, he has been obsessed with the universe, trapped there for 30 plus years. 

However, life is not like a comet that has a regular orbit. Su’s career after graduation was irrelevant to astronomy, and he entered the Internet field, working for China Soft, Founder Group and others in succession. Either by chance or destined, he joined the Kunming-based Jinghua Optics Company. Working with telescopes daily, Su finally kept a balance between job and hobby.

“I don’t take it as chance. Even if I hadn’t been hired by Jinghua Optics, I would have opened an astronomical bar, farm or else, all depending on my hobbies.” Now Su has grown to be a mid-aged man from a youngster, putting on some weight already, but he still gets excited whenever it comes to astronomy. 

Sharing the world Yunnan stars 

According to Su Hong, Yunnan makes a perfect site for astronomical observation, holding all the aces in the cause. As a region of high altitude but low latitude, Yunnan boasts clear sky on most nights all year around, and the light is less polluted from sparsely-scattered cities. Standing on the Yunnan plateau, therefore, star enthusiasts can catch sight of a clearer firmament at night. 

Favorable conditions made it possible for Yunnan to bear early fruits in astro-observation. In the 1980s, a few pilot Yunnan observers found their way into the towering and steep mountains, recording local starry sky with film cameras. As pioneers, they got through unimaginable difficulties. “Back then, it took several hours for the film to be exposed in photographing the stars. Only when the film is processed, can we see the picture. Any carelessness could ruin a day’s work.” Su Hong recalled. 

In 2005, Su joined hands with astrophiles across Yunnan in setting up the “Grand View – Sky Tour Club for Astrophiles,” in a bid to share the beautiful starry sky in Yunnan with the worldwide astronomers. They also hoped more tourists could come to Yunnan for the sky beauty. 

When a full solar eclipse occurred on July 22, 2009, the sight was not clearly observed in most Chinese areas due to unfavorable weather conditions. However, members of the Sky Tour Club recorded the solar eclipse flawless in northwest Yunnan’s Shangri-La. They belonged to the privileged Chinese astrophiles for the visual feast. 

Bringing stars to everyman

To make the starry sky known to more people, Su Hong and his club member came to think about how to bring the amazing sights to everyman. 

In 2005, the Sky Tour Club held the first “Yunnan Road Show for Astronomy” – a grand star party that benefited the public. Taking the telescopes they held dear to the Green Lake area, they offered free views to passers-by in the park. Through thick lenses of the instruments, tourists and residents in Kunming were impressed by the immensity of the starry sky that aroused their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. 

“At the road show, a grey-haired man personally saw the Saturn with the telescope, saying the capped star looks exactly the same as it had appeared on TV,” recalled Su. More than a decade has elapsed since the show, but Su Hong can still remember the senior’s excited face back then. “So far, the road show has been held for 10 plus times, with the convening site extending to Dali, Pu’er and Lijiang from Kunming. The show has benefited over 70,000 star lovers, topping the Chinese astronomic events in duration and influence. 

In 2009, the club handed in files to local authority, renaming itself the Amateur Astronomers Association of Yunnan Province. From 2013 on, the association has hosted the “Yunnan Star Convention,” the biggest astronomical party ever held outdoors in China. Taking tents, sleeping bags, moisture-proof mats and others, some participants observed the sky riding hot-air balloons. Meanwhile, laymen were also lying on the grassland nearby, idling their time by admiring the starry sky. Sharing and loving are the very astronomical values that Su hopes to be accepted by more. 

Joining hands with tourism

Having watched the wonderful Yunnan stars for so long, Su Hong does cherish the firmament over him: “The starry sky holds a special place among the rich tourism resources in Yunnan. In the developed coastal cities, you can never see such clear sky.”

In recent years, the Amateur Astronomers Association of Yunnan has received many scientific expedition teams, with their members visiting the Jinghua Optics Company for the production steps of telescopes. Putting together the telescopic parts by themselves, the visitors better enjoyed the fun in observing the planets. Also, Su brought them to outdoor activities, allowing the visitors to admire the starry sky and know more about the tourist resources in the province. “The beautiful valleys in Lijiang, the red-land in Dongchuan and the Jizu Mountain in Binchuan, all presented dreamy scenes under the starry sky, impressing the visitors a lot.”

Now Su Hong is engaging in the Distance Observatory project, which can be remotely controlled via an app on mobile phones. Linking the star-observing apparatuses to numerous phone users, the project will allow the public to appreciate the Yunnan sights and have a ‘sky tour’ whenever they like.

Writing by Duan Jianxin; Trans-editing by Wang Shixue; Photos by Amateur Astronomers Association of Yunnan 

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