▲ Jeju Starlight World maintains six permanently-sighted telescopes which track constellations across the sky, and offer views of many stars, and the planet Venus. The park’s largest telescope, contained in a separate observatory, offers an incredible view of Jupiter, and is even strong enough to pick out the planet’s orbiting moons. Photos courtesy Jeju Starlight World
Upon entering Jeju Starlight World, visitors may be hard-pushed to realize that they are in a planetarium. Aside for a few deep-space photographs on the white walls, there isn’t really much to go on as to the facility’s purpose. An unusual lack of signage, even in Korean, is also apparent and means that the chances of stumbling across a space-related room is about equal to the chance of spending several minutes traipsing down long, empty corridors. The main attraction of the planetarium, is of course it’s telescopes, but again, without someone to show you where the observatories are, these are in danger of remaining as mysterious as the far away planets they track.
Park Song-heong, who majored in Astronomy and who manages the observatories at the park, suggests that English-speaking visitors should look around by themselves at first and then find a member of staff when they wish to go to the observatories.
Exploring the night sky Starlight world has two star observation areas. The first contains six, 80-200mm, high-powered telescopes, which all track a different set of stars as they make their gradual journey across the sky. For about fifteen minutes, a guide explains all about the constellations and the Korean folktales that are attached to them- entirely in Korean, of course. The guide points out, with the use of a laser torch, the constellations, and planet Venus in the night sky. As he finishes his introduction to the stars, visitors are finally allowed to see for themselves as they take turns looking through each of the six scopes- the one focused on Venus eliciting the most exclamations of awe.
Would-be astronomers are then lead outside and into the second observatory, where a huge, 600mm telescope offers a view of Jupiter. This is undoubtedly the best part of the visit, as it’s possible to see not only the markings of Jupiter’s “surface” but its moons as well.
▲ Another observatory offers a stunning view of Jeju’s sky line combined with the very impressive “sunken solar system” in the foreground; perfect for taking photos day or night. Photo courtesy Jeju Starlight World
As well as the main attraction of the telescopes, Starlight World offers several other activities. The first is a cinema room, in which a domed screen encompasses the entire ceiling. Reclining seats add to the viewing experience as visitors can relax and gaze upwards at the projection of thousands of stars. The ensuing movie explores the origins of the universe while taking viewers on a journey through the solar system and nearby galaxies. A 4D cinema room is next on the schedule. It features a short film about aliens exploring the ocean, which viewers watch using 3D glasses. The film is not particularly engrossing but the shaking seats that mimic onscreen action will probably entertain younger visitors.
A series of displays await visitors in the exhibition hall but they unfortunately pale significantly in comparison to the stargazing. Plus, one of the main offerings- a chance to physically experience the gravitational pull of other planets in comparison with ours - was shut down several months ago, due to safety concerns, and is yet to be replaced. It’s a little surprising to learn that Jeju’s Starlight World is the largest space park in Korea, especially as it receives, on average, a mere 100 visitors a day. The park was opened in the aim that it would offer people something to do in the evenings, but detailed education programs and informative content would attract more return visits. When to visit Fall is the best time of year to view the night sky as the sun sets relatively early, and Park explained that Jeju is a good place for stargazing due to the lack of light pollution. Jeju Starlight World is not far from Jeju National University and is worth an evening visit if only for the chance to gaze at Jupiter in all its majesty, 390 million miles away.
The park is open 2pm-10pm in November, but the viewing schedule varies by season. The schedule can be checked at http://star.jejusi.go.kr/ (Korean only.) The park is closed on Mondays.
To get there, take a bus towards Jeju National University and disembark at the large intersection. Walk uphill until you reach the park’s entrance way on the right hand side, and continue walking a few more minutes until you reach the park itself. Alternatively Starlight World is a short taxi ride from Shi-cheong; tell the driver “제주별빛누리공원.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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