Tempus fugit, seems the phrase fits to the situation that revolves around me. True that in such an instant i realize that we already in March 2009! I guess time flies as we realize it or not, the time will move on in its own pace. What have i done recently? The largest proportion of course because of my works, the mounting of paper works, the routinity of observations (in my office), and another project with my fellow from Bosscha observatory. And not to forget project related to IYA 2009, like ‘The Asian Stars Project‘ (compiling the local star-lore). Another project related to archaeo-astronomy on studying Borobudur (as an ancient observatory?).
Not just astronomy, like anyone else, i enjoy the excitement of life, like sports, musics, etc. Maybe we are still in rainy season, so i can not go out toplay tennis, but, hey, i still play chess inside sometimes. But to enjoy sports oftenly we don’t have to do that by ourselves. We can enjoy sports by watching it!
What is the best entertainment show in the world? The answer is, Soccer game! I always enjoy the game, either local (Persib! Persib!), european leagues (English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Lega Calcio, Bundes Liga, Champion League, you name it). Sometimes boxing also can be fun (congratulation to Chris John for retaining his title, regardless the last one he retain it by a draw vs Rocky Juarez). Btw, i hope Manchester United won’t cancel their plan to visit Jakarta, or i will miss a very exciting game!
What will become the world without music? (At least for me). I might be a bad musician, but i always very fond of music since my childhood. I also involve in Karawitan (Javanese music orchestra), and regularly reherseal every Thursday. Well, those are how things go on regular basis for me.
Now, among those things, there is one thing that keep captivates me. I involve in the team who study the possibility for building new observatory in eastern Indonesia. How many observatories in Indonesia currently? Why have to be in eastern of Indonesia? Why is it so important to build a new one?
There are many reasons to build a new observatory, with unique goals to attain, so every observatory is indeed on its own way. However, for most of ground-based observatory, large and small, always share something in common, that is, the challenge from the atmosphere. Hmm .. the atmosphere? it is a bless that we have the atmosphere, because of its existence, humanity can exist, but for astronomers, the atmosphere is always a boon & bane relationship. One’s noise is another’s signal, that is the primary rule. What does that mean? Because of the atmosphere, the signal from the sky absorbed by the atmosphere, and on some spectrum region, completely blind the signal, and because of atmosphere degrades the quality of signal quality, and if the signal is too low, can blended with the noise. On the opposite side, the atmospheric scientists decipher the atmosphere as the source of signal. Do note that Indonesia is tropical climate, so unless in higher place, building an observatory in lower plain will face the atmosphere, which pose a serious caveat.
The understanding of what to, where to, how to of observation is the basic element, before one decide to build a new observatory. So, if the scientific goal is the most important driver, and the available place is limited by several constrains, better to look somewhere else better. Otherwise, if scientific goal can be compromised, proper measurement should be conducted, why would put a wide aperture telescope in a place with a seeing that will give a result as good as a smaller one? What a waste, isn’t it? So, as common rules, what your step! And for both case, there is always a rigorous research if one tries to build a new scientific observatory, with so many obstacles waiting.
Historically speaking, since the native of Indonesia contacted with the western culture & also from that point of history mark the advent of modern science, so does the history of astronomy. The first modern observatory built in Batavia (now Jakarta), around 19th century, with emphasize on meteorological activities. Astronomy, per se should wait until 1928, the first pure astronomy observatory built in Lembang, West Java. Known as the Bosscha Observatory (the name after Karel Albert Rudolf Bosscha, the tea plantation owner, as the major contributor for the development, including granting six hectares of his area for the new observation). The Bosscha observatory code is 299 on IAU observatory codes, and currently administrated by the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Science of Institut Teknologi Bandung. Since that time the Bosscha Observatory play major roles on the development of modern astronomy in Indonesia.
Until recent time, the Bosscha Observatory still the largest observatory in Indonesia (and the only one for the purpose of astronomy), and still provide general astronomy activities in Indonesia. There are also some others observatories, like Tanjungsari Observatory (Sumedang, West Java) & Watukosek Observatory (Surabaya, East Java), both administrated by my office, LAPAN. But those two observatories emphasize on solar observation, and not as large as in the Bosscha observatory. Additional new observatory has been commissioned in Aceh province , with emphasize on modern observational of Hilal (moon phase for the Islamic calendar purpose).
Those observatories, well established in the western part of Indonesia. Indonesia is an archipelagic country extending 5,120 kilometers from east to west and 1,760 kilometers from north to south, lies in the equator, with a tropical climate. The basic idea of new observatory started simple, well, Indonesia is quiet a wide area, why don’t we (astronomers) in Indonesia try to expand our eyes to the sky? As for my office, simply to extend the Solar Patrol activitiy. If the western sky covered, hope the eastern sky would be open up. That would be the simplest driver for new observatory.
There is other attempt to study for new observatory in eastern in Indonesia. As we in LAPAN try to study in Biak island, (north-eastern Indonesia, near the Pacific), the group from Bosscha Observatory studies the possibility in the vicinity of Kupang (West Timor island, south east of Indonesia, share land border with Timor Leste). Well, this is not a race, as long as the place is suitable, so there would be a new place for the candidate.
Will the new observatory be built? When? Now those questions are harder to answered for so many reasons.
If one tried to propose a new thing, there should be at least one driver; like the new observatory, at least there should be one important scientific driver. For us, of course, observation of the Sun! Continuous observations from the Sun, in particular on H-alpha absorption line, will provide important informations of the situation on the Sun, that is the most important goal, however, as the demand of the night observations also grow, it would be interesting to expand the idea into day & night observatory. If my office did not do particular observational activity, maybe fellows from another institutions, or another countries can have the benefit from the observatory? Yes, if observatory can play important role in astronomy, so the observatory itself also without border.
Moving outside the boundaries, currently in the South East Asia region, there are severals new observatory established. Like the Langkawi National Observatory, belongs to the Malaysia; and the 2.4 m telescope belongs to the Thailand, the future would be an exciting astronomy activity in the region.
Maybe one could ponder, if you build the observatory, who will observe? who will come? Of course the astronomers! (Let’s assume that the public did not give much attention nor interest to the astronomy), maybe the number is not that much, nevertheless, the number grows! With the advent of movement of astronomy in the South East Asia region, (i.e. South East Asian Astronomy Network or SEAAN as the recent network of astronomers from the SEA region), so in the near future, there would be no boundaries between the astronomers in the region, and with the more availability of observatories will provide more opportunity for the astronomers to observe here and there.
Seems like a nice story to write, nevertheless, that is one important role of an observatory, to promote the growth & progress of science, and that would be beyond any particular boundaries, there is the universality of the universe.
Nonetheless, back to the reality, the study of the new observatory seems like a daunting process. Okay, maybe if i have to spell many of the scientific terminologies can make us shiver up and down the spine; like: flat-fielding, seeing, sky-brightnes, yada yada yada, but hey, i will not discuss about that here.
True to a degree, the major issue is fund. Yes that the fund is a major issue, not just in our case, but in many cases, in particular with the global crisis such this moment, so any available fund should be arranged carefully. Since my office is a governmental agency, so the only source of funding is certainly the government, and this will amplify on the research, because only government have both the funds to afford it and the desire to support it. Not that because of the government want to dictate, but the selections should be as which one is the priority. I live in the country, where the optional of science is practically not much choices. In the case of space research, should be on basic science or on applied technology? The biggest portion should be provided to the development of rocketry and satellite. This is the fact that i have to deal with.
All in all, this is the quest that i have taken, and i will not easily dismay. If we need a new observatory, but with such a limited fund, small group and limited resources, so build it with the best and proper as we can do. Persistence, resilience, hard-labor and commitment, are what we need, based from what i have experienced. Even if, for so many reasons we are unable to build it, all will not lost. The observatory is not only about the building, nor the observation activity nor astronomy, but this is about how the science goes. Even so the government dictate the course of the research, so the research should concentrate on the immediate needs of the country, and in our case, not always on high-tech science, but as long as we true to the cause, the repercussion will be felt if we do it right, because good science can catalyze progress and development (regardless how long will it takes).