Date: October 23, 2009
Title: A History of Modern Astronomy in Thailand Part 2
Podcaster: Visanu Euarchukiati
Description: Part 2 gives an account of Thailand’s astronomy from the 20th Century to the present. Although initial achievements before 1900 were few and far between, the pace has picked up considerably. Public awareness is at an all time high. Educational institutions and government agencies have been promoting astronomy education. Astronomy is poised to flourish in present day Thailand in ways never dreamed of even a generation ago. Incidental music is taken from King Rama VII’s Ratri Pradap Dao (Starry night), performed by Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gudni Emilsson.
Bio: Visanu Euarchukiati is an astronomy enthusiast working and living in Thailand. An active member of the Thai Astronomical Society, Visanu served as the Society’s executive committee and played a major role in the production of Thailand’s first English-Thai Dictionary of Astronomy. He also writes and translates astronomy articles for magazines and has a book of astronomy tidbits and anecdotes published under his name. His special interests in astronomy cover archeoastronomy and star tales. Visanu is the publisher of a podcasting website Khaikhan Nithan Dao (http://www.khaikhan.in.th), telling star tales from all over the world in Thai language.
Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by the American Astronomical Society, the major organization for professional astronomers in North America, whose members remind everyone that One Sky Connects Us All. Find out more or join the AAS at aas.org.
History of Modern Astronomy in Thailand – Part 2
Hello. My name is Visanu Euarchukiati, an astronomy enthusiast living and working in Thailand.
Today’s episode of the 365 Days of Astronomy is History of Modern Astronomy in Thailand, Part 2. It is a continuation of Part 1 which was put out on August 8, 2009. In that episode I talked about our collaboration with the Paris Observatory under Cassini during late 17th Century, and then King Mongkut’s accurate eclipse calculation in 1868 and Sir Arthur Schuster’s 1875 expedition to Siam which was the former name of Thailand before 1939. For this episode, the I will tell the story of Thailand’s astronomy in the 20th Century up to the present day.
The Schuster expedition was just over 130 years ago. Between then and now many things have changed. The First World War stopped all visits from Europe for a time. Siam had her first university in 1917, and that was when the formal study and research in astronomy began in this country. In 1929 there again was a total solar eclipse in Thailand, this time King Rama VII, son of King Rama V, observed the event with a team of British astronomers, and visited the camp of German astronomers nearby. The observations were intended to check on Einstein’s theory that the Sun’s gravity could bend star light, but the day was so cloudy that no meaningful observation was possible.
In 1932, just 3 years after the eclipse, Siam changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. The name change to Thailand came in 1939, around the start of the Second World War. And our present King is King Rama IX, or King Bhumibol, who has been on the throne for more than 60 years.
These 60 odd years of the King Bhumibol have been quite eventful for astronomy in Thailand. We have seen 2 total solar eclipses 40 years apart, one in 1955 and one in 1995. The first eclipse was also the first one to be publicly broadcast. The first planetarium opened its door in 1964 and the Thai Astronomical Society was founded in 1978. Both organizations have been very active in spreading astronomy to the general public here in Thailand.
Many universities have been offering courses in astronomy as parts of their Physics curricula. The ones with strong astronomy faculties also have their own observatories. One notable observatory belongs to Chiang Mai University. This observatory in the north of Thailand is well known for its public outreach program. People flock up the mountain road to participate whenever there are interesting astronomical events such as an eclipse of the moon or a comet.
As the standard of education increases among the population, interests in science also increase, particularly for astronomy where many phenomena in the sky can be observed by everyone. The public’s fascination with the stars are tied to big astronomical events. An event, such as the visit by Halley’s comet, would occur, and the people would get excited. Astronomy gets a mention in the popular newspapers, and when the news fade, the people’s interest wane.
Yet for all those who came and went, some would stay and became lifelong astronomy enthusiasts. Some may get serious, buy a telescope and start observing regularly, or get involved in other ways. Nowadays Thailand has a number of private observatories around the country and a handful of active astronomy clubs.
The biggest attractor of all was the total solar eclipse in 1995. The surge in interest in astronomy was unprecedented. Televisions, radios, newspapers, and magazines ran stories about the eclipse and almost anything astronomy for months before the event in October. The few astronomers in the country became small celebrities. On the eclipse day, millions went to the center line on the path of totality and many millions more watched it on TV. There were traffic jams on highways across the country wherever the shadow of the moon passed.
Astronomy seemed to have reached a critical mass that day. Since then major astronomical phenomena were talks of the town. Bright comets or partial solar eclipses make headlines. More people learned about astronomy. Many Thai language astronomy web sites sprang up, spreading the knowledge even further. Even the government revised the country’s elementary and secondary curricular to include more astronomy.
But the Thai government did more than just make school children learn astronomy. In 2004 the government approved the establishment of the National Astronomy Research Institute of Thailand, abbreviation N-A-R-I-T, or NARIT. The institute is now building an observatory on Inthanon Mountain which is the tallest in the country. This observatory will house a 2.4 meter research telescope which when completed will be one of the largest telescopes in Asia. Also in the plan are 5 regional observatories to take astronomy to the public in all regions of Thailand.
In late 2007 NARIT and Chiang Mai University co-hosted the first International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics in Chiang Mai province. The event brought high school students from 21 countries to sit in an international academic competition on Astronomy and Astrophysics. It is a great way to increase awareness of the subject in schools and ensure a continuous future for astronomy for Thailand.
Astronomy in Thailand looks set for a bright future. On the other hand, we do not forget our past. King Mongkut’s eclipse observation site at Wa Ko is now a historic site with a regional science center; and this year, to commemorate the International Year of Astronomy 2009, the ancient observatory at Wat San Paolo and the ruin of Kraison Siharat hall where King Narai the Great observed lunar and solar eclipses back in the 17th Century have been officially designated astronomical landmarks by NARIT.
Thailand has had quite a long affair with modern astronomy. We started from having a royal spectator, jumped to having a royal practitioner, and finally we now have a mass enthusiasm bordering on obsession for some. The music I use in both Part 1 and Part 2 of the History of Modern Astronomy in Thailand is the song Ratri Pradap Dao or Starry Night by King Rama VII who visited the British and German astronomers’ eclipse expedition camps in 1929. It was adapted and performed by the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra and I use it with their permission.
More Thai people participate in astronomical activities every year. They are fascinated by the stars. The same stars that you and I see, in the same sky shared by all of us. And in that spirit, I share my country’s involvement in modern astronomy with you.
This is Visanu Euarchukiati in Thailand wishing you clear sky and saying good bye to you in Thai – Sawatdi Khrap.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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