Sheshan Observatory reopens as museum after renovations
How did people explore the universe a century ago?
In 1901, the Sheshan Observatory took its first photo of the universe. Since then, thousands of photos have been taken.
As Shanghai's first and largest optical telescope observatory, Sheshan Observatory has reopened to the public in trial operation as an astronomy museum, after completing its most extensive renovation project to date.
Half gray, half white, the historic building on top of Sheshan Hill in suburban Songjiang District brings us back to a bygone era. The main part was built in 1900, and the white extension was competed in 1928.
About 123 years ago, the story of the observatory began with the "First Lens in the Far East," a 40-centimeter aperture double-tube refracting telescope.
The "First Lens" has taken nearly 7,000 astronomical photographs, including some of the earliest pictures of the sun, moon, nebulae, planets and galaxies, and documented the return of Halley's comet in 1910 and 1986.
"In 1898, after the telescope and dome were completed. Experts found that the soil in Xujiahui was too soft to support the 3-ton device. Sheshan Hill stands on a flat area with a height of nearly 100 meters, making it an ideal place for astronomical observation," said Tang Haiming, the person in charge of science popularization at Sheshan Observatory of Shanghai Astronomical Observatory.
Preparations for the Sheshan Observatory began in 1899, and it was completed in 1901.
"At the time, Sheshan was quite far from Shanghai, so all the devices were brought in by boat on the rivers, and carried up the hill," Tang added.
In 2005, the telescope paused its mission as it suffered from mold and water stains, which affected its image quality, due to years of service.
After two years of renovation, the "First Lens" regained its vitality.
The telescope's cage dome, a 10-meter-in-diameter steel dome that covered the telescope structure, has also been renovated.
A hundred years ago, the Sheshan Observatory had workers in charge of the huge dome. They climbed up the corridor along the ladder, turned the rocker, pulled the outer skylight horizontally, and then pulled the steel wire rope next to it, and opened the 12 steel plates of the inner skylight one by one.
Some damaged steel plates of the dome were changed during the repair work. The old steel plates have been transformed into a timeline on the entrance wall of the exhibition hall, allowing visitors to touch and feel the history of 100 years.
The historic telescope has two tubes, one designed for taking photos, equipped with a glass dry plate negative, a first-generation camera.
A picture of the moon, one of the first batch of photographs taken by the "First Lens" in 1901 is displayed at the museum.
During the renovations, the telescope was equipped with a specialized camera interface, allowing for the recording of the celestial images it captures.
Tang showed me a similar moon picture taken by the "First Lens" with the new digital camera last month. "The telescope is in high resolution, the photography technology of the time limited it," Tang said.
Astrophiles will have the opportunity to experience astronomical observation with the "First Lens" in the future.
Lots of a-century-old astronomical instruments, manuscripts and historic photos are displayed in the museum, such as star maps, observation records, even the hand grinder coffee maker owned by the observatory's first president.
Among them, a highlight is the 98-year-old prime meridian telescope.
Decades ago, one of the most important missions of the observatory was calculating the time.
The golden prime meridian telescope was the time-setting tool at that time. Each star has a certain time when it crosses the meridian – when a particular star is observed crossing the meridian, the staff would reset the astronomical clock.
A Leroy astronomical clock made in 1927, the hour clock at the Shanghai radio station before the 1950s, is displayed next to the telescope.
Along the wooden stairs to the rooftop of the building, is a splendid view of Sheshan Hill.
The silver hemispherical dome stands in contrast to the Marian Basilica, which was built in the 25th year of Emperor Guangxu's reign in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) – It's a wonder that a scientific building and religious building, in different styles and for different purposes, are on top of the same mountain.
A trip to the highest hill in Shanghai, an astronomical journey back to 1901, exploring the ancient secrets of astronomy.
If you go:
Opening hours: 8:30am-4:30pm (no entry after 4pm); closed on April 24-27
Tickets: 12 yuan (8 yuan for children under 1.3 meter, students and elders aged over 70); reservation is required via WeChat account "上海天文博物馆服务."
Address: 9258 Qingsong Highway, Western Sheshan Hill, Songjiang District (inside Shanghai Sheshan National Forest Park)