September/October 1997 Table of Contents
long ago it was difficult for Westerners to visit Vietnam or do
business there. Now the country is open, its economy growing at
8 percent a year, its astronomers finally getting a chance to work
in their chosen field.
years ago, the ancient Vietnamese began rice cultivation, ocean
navigation, and, to support these activities, astronomical observation.
Astronomical figures appear on the surfaces of the 3,000-year-old
brass drums that French archaeologists first found in 1929. One
of these drums is now on display at the United Nations headquarters
in New York.
observations continued throughout the nation's history. The Ly dynasty
(10101225) founded imperial observatories where the king's dignitaries
measured the Sun's shadow, observed the Moon, compiled calendars,
drew charts of the planets and stars, and predicted eclipses. In
1801, the Nguyen dynasty built Hue Observatory, some vestiges of
which remain in Hue, the old capital.
1902, under French rule, a new observatory replaced these old ones--Phu
Lien Observatory, 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Hanoi in a beautiful
site by the sea. Modeled on Zo-se Observatory in Shanghai, Phu Lien
was a universal observatory: It made geophysical and meteorological
as well as astronomical observations. It was originally equipped
with equatorial and meridian circles for solar observation and time
service. In 1972, these were supplemented by a 15-centimeter Zeiss
Coudō refractor. At Phu Lien, astronomers studied the Earth-Sun
relationship and its effect on radio-wave propagation and weather.
during the war from 1945 to 1975, Phu Lien observatory was seriously
damaged, its equipment largely destroyed. The Coudé refractor
was transferred in 1976 to Nha Trang, where there is a station for
observing artificial satellites. With Polish assistance, Phu Lien
has now re-established geophysical and meteorological observation--but
not yet astronomical observation.
the past few years, largely because of visits by astronomers from
the International Astronomical Union, Vietnamese astronomy has risen
from the dead. There are some 20 astronomers who were trained in
Russia and Eastern Europe. Two of them were elected general members
of IAU in 1991, and many have participated in IAU activities, such
as the 1994 general assembly in the Netherlands. Equipment is slowly
materializing. Some school telescopes were sent to Vietnam by the
Canadian Royal Astronomical Society and the Paris Observatory. The
Sumimoto Science Foundation in Japan donated a 40-centimeter reflecting
telescope for the 1995 total solar eclipse. And a 100-seat planetarium
in Vinh is now under construction; it should receive its instruments
from Japan next March.
astronomical research in Vietnam has concentrated on preparing ephemerides,
conducting astrometry, studying the motion of artificial satellites,
and assisting surveys of Vietnamese territory. Astronomers have
published primarily in Chinese, Russian, and Eastern European journals.
Some have written textbooks and popular books.
the coming years, with the new telescopes, we wish to do more detailed
In Vietnam, we have places where there are 200 to 300 days of
sunshine yearly and a great number of days when the Sun's altitude
at noon is higher than 60 degrees.
mechanics and ephemerides. These are fields that do not demand
expensive equipment, and in which we already have expertise.
at low latitudes. Pulkova Observatory in Russia has published
corrections to stellar positions which account for atmospheric
refraction. But to use these tables in tropical countries, where
the temperature and humidity are higher, it will be necessary
to make additional observations.
the advances, our equipment and materials are still insufficient.
There is no observatory, no journal, no research center. Vietnamese
astronomers are scattered around the country, and many must earn
their living in other careers. The libraries in universities have
a lot of astronomical books and journals--mainly Russian and Eastern
European texts from 30 years ago.
most pressing task of all is to train a new young scientific contingent.
Before 1950, astronomy and cosmology were taught in the last year
of secondary school. During wartime, astronomy was dropped in order
to shorten the education program, and that has remained unchanged.
But the subject is still taught in some universities and other institutions
of higher learning. Some physics students, particularly those who
want to teach astronomy in secondary school, pursue a master's degree
in astronomy. Ten postgraduate students are now studying astronomy
education is the first priority of Vietnamese astronomers. We hope
to restore astronomy to the secondary-school curriculum, which will
demand textbooks, audiovisual and demonstration equipment, and small
telescopes and theodolites. We also plan to establish a training
center for astronomy teachers.
the postgraduate level, Vietnamese astronomers are selecting the
best students in physics and trying to send them abroad to study.
In 1994 two graduate students went to France to study astrophysics.
We hope to have a working Internet connection by the time they return.
The Internet was allowed into Vietnam only in June, and Vinh should
have the facilities by the end of this year.
astronomers have attended summer schools in India, China, Egypt,
and Vatican City. Donat Wentzel of the University of Maryland and
Nguyen Quang Rieu of Meudon Observatory will hold an IAU summer
school in Vietnam from Sept. 1 to 14.
a few years, when Vietnam's economy and scientific community have
grown, we can finally build a national observatory. We hope, with
the continued assistance of astronomical organizations around the
world, we can find again our position in the international astronomical
is the vice-rector of Vinh University, Nghe An, Vietnam. He would
like to acknowledge the assistance of Nguyen Dinh Noan and Dinh
Phan Khoi. Nguyen's fax number is (84) (38) 44812.