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Astronomy in Korea

Ancient Astronomy

Korea honors a long-standing legacy of astronomy, treasured for thousands of years. The origin of Korean ancient astronomy dates back to the prehistoric era. Astronomical signs in the prehistoric age are star-like cup-marks carved on cover stones of dolmens. It is evident that ancient Korean kingdoms established own bureaus of astronomy, built observatories, and employed administrators designated to observe astronomical phenomena. Initial observations of astronomical phenomena started from the 1st century BCE and over 20,000 extensive historical records and relics have passed down from generation to generation. In particular, Cheomseongdae Observatory, built in 633 CE is one of the oldest observatories in the world.
Cheomsungdae, an astronomical observatory built in the 7th century, still stands in the city of Gyeongju, the capital of the Shilla dynasty.

King Sejong the Great (1418-1450) and Joseon Dynasty

In general, Korean kings and nobilities were in favor of supporting astronomy. The reign of King Sejong the Great, between 1418 and 1450 is known as the unprecedented Golden Age of Korean science and culture, with particular attention to astronomical instruments and technologies. King Sejong the Great commissioned a substantial revision of Western, Islamic and East Asian traditional sciences and placed Korea as one of the frontrunners leading the calendrical science, astronomical observation, and invention of related instruments in the region. 

One of the outstanding astronomical heritages during the Joseon Dynasty is a star chart carved on a stone plate in 1395. The stone star chart contains 1,467 stars with various sizes. According to the modern calculations, it is known that the location of the star was found to be located in the 1st century and the 14th century. 

The astronomical instruments and calendars during the Joseon Dynasty are well examined by Needham et al.’s book entitled “The Hall of Heavenly Record: Korean Astronomical Instruments 1380-1780,” published by Cambridge University Press in 1986. Needham et al. label Korean astronomy as “a true national variant of the East-Asian astronomical tradition” and note, “The instruments and written records are a valuable legacy to the history of science everywhere.”
King Sejong the Great (1418–1450) was the fourth king of Joseon Dynasty who invented Hangul, the native phonetic alphabet system for the Korean language.
Cheonsang Yeolcha Bunyajido is a planisphere originally carved in 1396, four years after the inauguration of the first King of Joseon Dynasty. According to the preface written in the bottom part of the chart, it was based on a sky map observed in the early Goguryeo Dynasty.
Angbu Ilgu, "pot-shaped Sun clock staring at the sky” is a sundial made by Jang Yeong-sil, a Korean astronomer lived under the King Sejong's reign.

Modern Astronomy

Due to the tragic collapse of the Joseon Dynasty in 1910 and followed Japanese colonial rule and Korean War, Korean modern astronomy in the early 20th century struggled for existence. Nonetheless, Koreans in the midst of hardship strived to continue and honor the legacy of astronomy research. Since the first modern lecture on astronomy taught at the Yonsei University in 1915 and the launch of the first independent department of astronomy at the Seoul National University in 1958, Korean astronomy underwent steady expansion. 

Now with eight universities offering up to Ph.D programs in astronomy and astrophysics, Korean astronomy enjoys a rapid growth in numbers of well educated human resources, cutting edge research outputs, and astronomical instruments. Together with Korean astronomers’ dedicated commitment to astronomy and substantial government support, Korea is engaged in various activities including the launch of space telescopes, Korea VLBI network (KVN), the network of three wide-field telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere (KMTNet) monitoring the sky 24 hours a day. Active international collaborations are also sought, by partaking in the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) consortium. After a long pause, Korea once again steers the way into the great endeavor to stand on the frontline of astronomy and space science for mankind and a better tomorrow. 

Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI)  

Since its establishment in 1974, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI) has been home to astronomical research activities, construction and operation of medium and large observational facilities. It has also laid an important foundation for the ultimate advancement of the basic science in the Republic of Korea. KASI has played an underpinning role in the advancement of astronomical science and technology in close association with the KAS, employing the long-term strategic schemes.

Korea Microlensing Telescope Network (KMTNet)

The Korea Microlensing Telescope Network (KMTNet) is a wide-field photometric system installed by the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). The system consists of three 1.6m wide-field optical telescopes equipped with mosaic CCD cameras of 18k by 18k pixels. Each telescope provides a 2.0 by 2.0 square degree field of view. The installations of all three telescopes and cameras were finished sequentially at the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile, the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in South Africa, and the Siding Spring Observatory (SSO) in Australia. This network of telescopes, which is spread over three different continents at a similar latitude of about -30 degrees, enables 24-hour continuous monitoring of targets observable in the Southern Hemisphere. All of the observation data are transferred to the KMTNet data center at KASI via the international network communication and are processed with the KMTNet data pipeline. The primary scientific goal of the KMTNet is to discover numerous extrasolar planets toward the Galactic bulge by using the gravitational microlensing technique, especially earth-mass planets in the habitable zone.  During the non-bulge season, the system is used for wide-field photometric survey science on supernovae, asteroids, and external galaxies.

Korean VLBI Network (KVN)

The Korean VLBI Network is the one and only VLBI facility, employing multi frequency bands from 22 GHz to 142 GHz in the world. It consists of three 21m radio telescopes that are located in Seoul (Yonsei University), Ulsan (Ulsan University), and on Jeju Island (Tamna University). These radio telescopes altogether produce an effective spatial resolution, equivalent to that of a 500km radius. Compared to the American and European VLBI networks such as VLBA and EVN, the size of the KVN is relatively small; however, the KASI is currently developing an innovative multi-frequency-band receiver system in order to overcome this shortcoming. At this stage, it is possible to make simultaneous VLBI observations at four different frequency bands: 21.03-23.44. 41.89-44.30, 84.58-95.49, 124.0-142.0 GHz. The KVN is now testing an observation stage for a world-class and competitive VLBI research.

Giant Magellan Telescope Project (GMT)

The GMT is a twenty-five meter optical telescope currently under construction by a consortium of 12 institutions in four countries, plans to be operational in 2024 at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, one of the best astronomical sites in the world. KASI has been participating in the GMT project representing Korean astronomical community since 2009. The Korean GMT (K-GMT) is a KASI project supporting the participation in the GMT construction, development of state-of-art instruments, and preparation for the era of GMT. K-GMT is working closely with the Korean astronomical community through the science and instrument working group (SIWG) which is composed of about 15 members from KASI and Korean universities. Since its first composition in 2009, SIWG has been active in holding annual Summer school for the students and postdocs, publishing science books for GMT, and holding international conferences, etc. to foster academical next generation and promote scientific capability of the community.

Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA)

In 2014, the KASI has entered into an MOA with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan under the National Institutes of Natural Sciences and became an official partner of the ALMA project as an East Asian ALMA consortium member. The KASI is sharing the East Asian ALMA consortium by in-kind contribution of developing multi-beam systems worth of USD 0.5M in 2015.
The KASI continues to seek more opportunities to engage in the international collaborative activities and is pleased to endorse the KAS to host the IAUGA 2021 in this context. The KASI shall offer full technical and financial supports for the success of the GA in IAU history.

Gemini Observatory

The Gemini Observatory consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the Earth, the Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the Cerro Pachon in Chile. From these mountain tops, the Gemini Observatory’s telescopes can collectively observe the entire sky with the state-of-the-art astronomical instruments.

The Gemini Observatory is operated by an international partnership of five countries including USA, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Korea. On behalf of Korea, KASI has joined the Gemini Observatory partnership in July 2018, providing superb observerving capabilities of Gemini to the entire Korean community members.

KASI is also building a new high-resolution near infrared spectrograph “IGRINS-2” that is scheduled for commissioning at Gemini South telescope in 2023.

The Gemini Observatory telescopes’ locations and its international partner institutions. The participating institutes represent their national community of US, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Korea.
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