A New Era of Indonesian Space, Largest Observatory in Southeast Asia Founded

Figure 1. Laying of the First Stone for the Construction of the Timau National Observatory. (Source: Lapan.go.id) Indonesia will enter a new […]


Figure 1. Laying of the First Stone for the Construction of the Timau National Observatory. (Source: Lapan.go.id)

Indonesia will enter a new era of space, marked by the start of the construction of a modern astronomical observatory on Timor Island, East Nusa Tenggara by the National Institute of Aviation and Space (LAPAN). From information on the LAPAN website, the groundbreaking of the observatory construction has been carried out by LAPAN’s Deputy for Space and Atmospheric Sciences, Afif Budiyono on November 29, 2018. The facility is predicted to be the largest in Southeast Asia.

Details of the construction of future astronomical facilities in Indonesia were reported in a publication in  Nature Astronomy  on December 3, 2018 written by researchers from the LAPAN Saint Space Center (Pussainsa) and the Department of Astronomy, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Bandung Institute of Technology (FMIPA ITB), Bandung Indonesia.

In a publication with Emanuel Sungging Mumpuni from Pussainsa LAPAN as the lead author it was explained that the construction of the modern observatory aims to answer fundamental astronomical questions and to strengthen the nation through education, research, science and technology.

Astronomy has been a part of Indonesian culture and history since time immemorial. In the past, astronomy has been used for navigation, to determine the cycle of rice cultivation, such as determining the dry season and the rainy season. Then also to direct the construction of ancient temples.

However, astrophysics, the new branch of astronomy on stellar physics emerged in Indonesia in 1920 with the establishment of the Bosscha observatory in Lembang, West Java, Indonesia, in part supported by donations from UNESCO, the UN special body for education, science and culture. Bosscha Observatory has made many important contributions to the development of astronomy and astrophysics, as well as the development of the Indonesian astronomy community.

At present the astronomy community in Indonesia is growing. In addition to the Bosscha Observatory which is part of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), there are also LAPAN and the Department of Atmospheric and Planet Sciences at the Sumatra Institute of Technology (ITERA). Unfortunately, modern astronomical facilities are still lacking. The situation was made worse by the fact that the Bosscha Observatory – the only professional astronomy observatory operating in Indonesia – was affected by light pollution from the city of Bandung.

Given the rapid progress of science and technology, it is important to maintain the modernization of existing astronomical facilities and develop new facilities. Thanks to the efforts of the local astronomy community combined with political decisions, Indonesia is now committed to advancing astronomy and space science. The key development towards this goal is the passing of Law of the Republic of Indonesia Number 21 of 2013 concerning Space Activities, followed by the Presidential Decree for the National Space Program, which states that Indonesia must have a national observatory. For this reason, construction of a future observatory will begin on the island of Timor.

Figure 2. Timau National Observatory area located on Mount Timau, Kupang Regency, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). The specific climate of the island of Timor, which is affected by the arid climate of the Australian continent, will give Indonesian astronomers the opportunity to carry out astronomical observations for most of the year. (Source: Nature.com)

The eastern part of Indonesia is considered the most profitable location for the construction of new astronomical observatories. Despite the challenges of cloud cover in Indonesia, which are on average quite high, meteorological research has found that the best area might be in the East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) region. Measurements show the area for development on Mount Timau which has a height of about 1,300 meters above sea level with the brightness of the night sky in the region reaching 70 percent which is an important aspect for astronomical observations and research.

The observatory is owned by LAPAN, but the project is a collaboration between LAPAN, ITB, UNDANA, NTT Government and Kupang Regency. It is hoped that the observatory will be operational by 2021 and will be open to national and international collaboration.

In addition to the area on Mount Timau, a central office and science center will also be built in Tilong, near Kupang City, NTT. The science center will provide direct benefits and reach out to the local community and provide education.

Figure 3. The proposed telescope will be installed at the Timau National Observatory in Indonesia. The observatory will be equipped with a 3.8 meter optical telescope which is a twin sister of the Seimei Telescope at the Okayama Observatory, Kyoto University, Japan. The telescope will cover 95% of the sky. Credit: Courtesy of Kyoto University

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The main telescope proposed to be installed at the Timau National Observatory in Indonesia is the 3.8 meter optical telescope which is a twin brother of the Seimei Telescope at the Okayama Observatory, Kyoto University, Japan. The telescope can cover 95% of the sky. the area will also have a 1.2 meter telescope, two twin 50 cm observation telescopes and a 30 cm telescope for solar observation. Several telescopes are planned to be operated using remote control to avoid problems with difficult access to the area. Not only that, the future observatory will also be equipped with radio telescopes – still under discussion – that can provide multi-wavelength and high-resolution data.

The 3.8 m telescope will be equipped with an ultra-sensitive CCD camera and medium-resolution spectrograph that will be suitable for future research that leads to research on the formation and evolution of star clusters from chemical dynamics and perspectives and the relationship between stellar physics and interstellar medium. This telescope can also be used for other fields of astrophysics, such as the characterization of exoplanets, stars like the sun and the dynamic and chemical properties of nearby galaxies.

Then, in addition to the 3.8 m telescope, smaller telescopes can be used to observe nearby celestial bodies and solar observations that will strengthen space weather studies in Indonesia. Another consideration for the selection of the instrument is that it can provide significant results for scientific output, minimum required maintenance, suitability to train new astronomers and provide general educational opportunities.

Figure 4. Themes of research carried out in Indonesia based on key publications published between 2005 and 2016. ‘Method / instrumentation’ (Metd), ‘Stars’ and ‘Solar System’ (SSys) dominate more than 50% of total scientific output , followed by ‘Sun’, ‘Galaxy’ (Glxy), ‘Extragalaction’ (EGlx), and ‘multi-wavelength astronomy’ (Wave) studies. This publication during 2005-2016 was indexed by NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS), and the classification was adapted from the monthly notification list of the Royal Astronomical Society with keywords. (Source: Nature.com)

National and international collaboration will be a key component for the success of future observatories and for the sustainability of their science programs.

With the availability of these facilities, it is considered to be very profitable because asteroid observations are lacking in the Southeast Asian region. Research collaborations with other institutions have also been made, such as plans for developing sustainable instrumentation with Kyoto University and there is also a robotic telescope development plan in collaboration with the Astrophysics Research Institute at Liverpool John Moores University.

Some additional activities are also considered in the future for the local community and the Indonesian people in general. One of them is building astro-tourism by creating dark-sky park around the location. The plan is a mutually beneficial solution to maintain the quality of the sky and improve the quality of life of the local community. Long-term sustainability of the telescope area is important to keep building awareness of the importance of the dark night sky, the values ​​of its scientific heritage and its importance for human life to environmental and ecological planning.


[1] Mumpuni, ES Puspitarini, Lucky. Priyatikanto, Rhorom. Clara, YY Putra, Mahasena. 2018. Future astronomy facilities in Indonesia. Nature Astronomy. DOI: doi.org/10.1038/s41550-018-0642-6
[2] Pussainsa Dissemination Team. 2018. Construction of the Timau National Observatory Officially Begins. Accessed from: https://www.lapan.go.id/index.php/subblog/read/2018/5347/Development-Observatorium-Nasional-Timau-Resmi-Start on December 5, 2018

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