Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
I used to stare up and imagine the sky like a dome, just like in the Truman Show (yes, there will be a few 90s references here). Staring at the blue sky during the day only gave me the illusion that I was under some kind of protected layer, like those artificial ceilings painted blue with clouds drawn on them. However, it’s different during a clear night, when I’m really looking at outer space. Fixated on stars could actually mean that I could be looking at some other creature staring back at me of the same wonderment. The time I realized this, it felt like a major epiphany of my understanding of the galaxies. That, and the X-Files series. Since then, I’ve been fascinated with space. So, in the event of an offer to visit Bosscha Observatory in Bandung, the oldest observatory in Indonesia, that space-amused girl leaped on the opportunity. It was time to go dancing with the stars, the kind I like!
During visits, Bosscha Observatory provides tours of the telescopes and a presentation about space. There are so many cool things I learned from this visit.
Bosscha Observatory was built by the Nederlandsch-Indische Sterrenkundige Vereeniging (NISV) or seemingly the Dutch Indies outer-space geek club. It took 5 years to build, from 1923-1928. Establishment was mostly funded by Karel Albert Rudolf Bosscha, a landlord for the tea plantation around the outskirts of Bandung, Malabar, hence the wealth and the observatory name. Now that’s something awesome to do when you have a lot of money!
The tour consists of telescope dome visit and a presentation. The observatory staff would appoint you to a group, which would start the tour either at the telescope or the presentation room. My group started at the telescope.
The humongous telescope located within the main dome is super awesome! The telescope was a double refractor Zeiss 60 cm lens telescope that was built in the 1920s. During the tour, aside to telling the story, the guides within the dome showed us that the 2 mm steel-dome still opens, closes, and rotates according to observation needs. The telescope is so huge they locked in the elevation, because it was too heavy to move up and down. To adjust to the height of the observer and the tilting degree of the telescope, they made the thick concrete sphere floor move up and down. The guides showed us that both the telescope and elevated floor that was built in the 1920s STILL WORK! It was super cool to see such an old technology still working today.
The multimedia presentation of the universe was held in one of the old buildings. The small yet cozy room was a nice step back into the past, with low ceilings and a room enough for about 70 people. As a geek of science, I learned heaps but I think most of my friends were pretty bored after this talk, though I don’t know why, considering it was just slightly geeky and still wrapped in a semi-entertaining manner. It’s just preference, I guess. But the lesson learned was that humans are a mere speck of a speck in this humongous-gigantic-incredibly-spacious universe. The size of space is beyond my imagination! It also really confirmed my beliefs in aliens because with a universe this big, it’s impossible to be the only living creature there is. Mulder remains right!
Because I registered a night visit, various telescopes were laid out for visitors to see through and it was possible to stargaze. At the time, there were 2 small telescope sets on the lawn for visitors to look through, but the main sight was the second largest telescope of the observatory within a smaller dome. We stood inline to peek into the tiny viewfinder.
At the time, visitors had the chance to see Saturn, which apparently was the closet to earth after some time. It was Saturn Return time. After waiting for about 15 minutes in line, I finally had my go and guess what I saw through that lens! A purple background with a monochrome gold-like Saturn and another planet beside it. Both Mega, my travel companion who happens to be a NASA fan and a graphic designer, and I laughed at the fact that what we initially saw was like a 2D illustration for an infographic. It was, like, Mega could make the same image on her computer, printed it, taped it to the end of that telescope, and no one would have known the difference. But with a little more time on the viewfinder, we could see slight details of Saturn’s ring. Although we both agreed that the initial sight was quite mind-tickling, we ended really happy to see the real Saturn, complete with its ring. So cute!
Oh, I have to add that the guides on this tour and all around the facilities were Astronomy students of ITB, not random people working as guides. Honestly, knowing the manner of students of this school being a former one myself, it’s surprising that they could be informative, talkative, and friendly. Turns out, they had to pass a test to be able to guide visitors. Interesting program!
It’ll probably take another 30 years give or take to the next encounter. God knows, we’d be healthy enough to see it again. Amen!
Bosscha Observatory in Bandung opens every Tuesday-Friday for day visits from institutions that pre-register. Tours during the day only scope around the main telescope tour and the presentation. Saturdays, they’re open for families and individuals only; not for groups more than 20 people. Schedules are around 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The maximum visitors are 200 people per day and visitors are to pay IDR 15,000 / person.
Night observations (as I did) has specific schedules that is posted on their website. During these scheduled days, the observatory provides the tour, presentation, and prepares other various telescopes. Bosscha opens at 5 – 8 p.m. All visitors must register before due date, they are limited to 200 people a day and must pay IDR 20,000 / person.
Photo by @MegaCaesaria
More about their schedule on this link. It’s schedule is particular, not falling on the weekends. Hence, there won’t be too much of a crowd visiting. This would be important so you could synchronise visiting Bosscha Observatory as part of your list of things to do in Bandung. The site is in Indonesian language but the dates are pretty obvious.
Registration must be done through phone call. Registering institutions will undergo some paperwork that will be explained through the phone, hopefully also in English.
FMIPA Institut Teknologi Bandung
Lembang, Bandung 40391
Jawa Barat, Indonesia
No Telp./Fax.: +62-22-2786001
Bosscha Observatory is located in Lembang, the high north of Bandung. Naturally, it would be on top of an elevated land for better viewing. To get there, you can use a private vehicle all the way up to the parking lot. It’s a right turn on the main road to Lembang. Signs are pretty visible.
For public transport, you can take the ‘angkot’ heading to Lembang, stop at the intercsection and walk up. It’s about a steep 1 km to the top.
My almamater has the only access to the observatory, hence I’ve had a few offers to visit, and yet I have never made to any one of them. Ironically, I could make it when I had a job in a different city, had to cut work to get there according to the schedule, and had to register and pay like anybody else. The moral of this story is, never take the local attractions in your hometown for granted.