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For thousands of years, Chinese astronomers have watched the sky by day and at night, looking for -- as the Yi Jing (the Book of Changes) puts it -- “symbols from above, which show good or bad fortune”. Chinese astronomers carefully logged twenty-two centuries of cometary observations (including of Halley’s Comet which returns every 76 years, with the earliest records dating from 240 BCE). They built up a large number of observational data points, yet never used them to deduce mathematical theories about the movement of planets and comets in a similar way as Galileo, Kepler or Newton in Europe. But in the last few decades China has been catching up. They put a human in orbit in less than four decades and soon hopefully on the Moon. The largest radio telescope in the world (500 m diameter) is currently being built in China. It will be able to register signals from as far back as the Big Bang. The government’s Five Year Plan states that China must push forward its exploration of planets, asteroids and the Sun. If this happens according to the country’s usual growth rate, much can be expected from “The Science of Heaven” over the next decades. In this documentary we explore the Chinese history of the “Science of Heaven”, and we establish links to the most recent Chinese explorations in astronomy and astrophysics. We visit observatories in remote areas in China, we witness the final construction phase of the world’s largest radio telescope in Guizhou and we might end up on the Moon with the Chinese Lunar Program.
This documentary was originally conceived by Richard de Grijs (Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Peking University) and Ziping Zhang (Beijing Planetarium). They commissioned René Seegers as director/producer and secured funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). The documentary is targeted at a general audience.