14Apr2019

Astronomy A Growing Draw For Tourists

Traveling for stargazing, observatories and museums has become more popular. The first image of a black hole may continue to spark Chinese people’s growing curiosity for space.

According to a report released by China’s online travel agency Ctrip on Thursday, the number of tourists searching for and making reservations for travel involving astronomy surged by 60 percent on its online platform in 2018, compared with 2017.

Popular activities include stargazing, visits to observatories or astronomical museums, observing the northern lights, and space camps, the report said.

Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Nanjing are among the top 10 cities with the most tourists opting for such sightseeing.

Pingtang county, Southwest China’s Guizhou province, attracted the most tourists last year, said Zhang Qi, who is responsible for domestic travel at Ctrip.

The county is home to the world’s largest radio telescope called the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), and has seen a surge in tourism since trial operations began in 2016.

Official statistics show total tourism revenue exceeded 5.5 billion yuan ($820 million) in the county in the first half of 2018, a year-on-year increase of 38 percent. The county attracted over 5.1 million visitors during that period.

Apart from observatories, areas suitable for stargazing, like deserts, grasslands and plateaus, as well as planetariums, have also boosted the tourism industry in Tengger Desert in Alxa League, the Inner Mongolia autonomous region; the Hulunbuir Grassland in Inner Mongolia; and Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang, Hainan province, according to these local governments.

“The number of students attending activities held by astronomical societies has been increasing too, although there is no hard data,” said Li Zhaoyu, an associate professor at School of Physics and Astronomy at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Aside from curiosity for the unknown, technological advances in observation tools play a key role by making things in deep space appear clear and close to people on Earth, Li said.

“Development of public transportation also enables people to visit various places suitable for observation and photography.”

Arts and literature are also critical contributing factors to broaden the public’s imagination, he added.

Among those works, the Threebody Problem by Chinese author Liu Cixin has brought striking international attention to Chinese science fiction, as it became the first Chinese book to win the prestigious Hugo Award in 2015.

This year, the Chinese sci-fi movie adapted from the book, Wandering Earth, has earned more than 4.3 billion yuan at the box office since its opening on Feb 5. So far it has ranked second at the box office of all domestic blockbusters.

“It may be an opportune time to spread more knowledge about astronomy to the public,” said Zuo Wenwen, a staff member from the information office at Shanghai Astronomical Observatory.

“Shanghai Astronomical Observatory will provide support for organizations interested in holding exhibition tours on the topic,” Zuo added.

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