Astronomical tourism; What Iran has to offer to stargazers

TEHRAN, Jul. 12 (MNA) – Tourism industry has gained momentum in recent years with the government redoubling efforts to boost the sector for increasing foreign currency revenues and creating jobs under the current economic conditions.

Iran is a country of immense beauty, charm, and ancient-world mystery. From the Caspian Sea in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south, Iran is filled with numerous tourist attractions–mostly untouched.

Among many attractions, astronomy tourism, a type of tour which can flow a big sum of money to the sector’s pockets, has garnered a lot of attention lately.

Iran – a land covered with wide deserts in the eastern and central parts, where the melody of the wind is the only sound that reaches the visitor's ears – offers some of the most pristine star-gazing conditions in the world.

To make the pest of such opportunities, travel agencies have been trying to organize tours on this ancient fascination to allow interested individuals to witness the beauty of the night sky it all its glory, far away from cities’ light pollution.

Worth to mention, the deserts of Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut provide clear skies for astronomy enthusiasts, making them some of the greatest places on the planet to witness the Heavens, and learn about the mythology of the stars, find constellations in the sky, listen to their stories in an interactive experience.

There are many other ancient sites in the country used to be the centers for mathematical astronomy. It should come as a little surprise that such places have now become top travel destinations for the aficionados.

Mathematical astronomy was used to build multistory ziggurat towers, such as Chogha Zanbil in Susa (in present-day Khuzestan province), dating back to the Elamite Era. Ziggurats functioned as observatories; at seven-floors high, ziggurats were used by astronomers to observe and record the movement of celestial bodies. Tables with astronomical computations of the distances between stars have been preserved and contain information on the basic fixed stars and constellations, their relative positions, and periods of the solar rising and settings, among others.

Ka'ba-ye Zartosht in Naqsh-e Rostam (located in present-day Shiraz), which was built during the Achaemenid Era, bears surprisingly detailed inscriptions of the cycle of days.

In the following centuries, more advanced structures called Chahar Taghi (meaning 'four arches' in Farsi) were used by astronomers to create calendars and almanacs. The most famous of such structures are the Niasar Chahar Taghi, Isfahan Province and the Radakan Chahar Taghi, Khorasan Razavi Province. 

Sadly, not everyone has the time to take an astronomy tour; life has a habit of getting in the way of living; so, the stars have been brought to the city.

Gonbad-e Mina Planetarium

The Gonbad-e Mina Planetarium, located in the Abbasabad Hills area of Tehran, is designed to show the night sky in all its glory – even during the day. 

The planetarium makes sure everyone gets a chance to gaze upon the starts without the nuisance of light pollution.

Featuring a full-dome 3D planetarium, Gonbad-e-Mina is said to be the largest in the Middle East. It provides astounding views of the sky reflected upon the ceiling.

There is a projector at the center of the planetarium and separate projectors for the Sun, the Moon and other planets and stars. It has been primarily built for presenting educational and entertaining shows on astronomy.

One of the most intriguing star shows at the planetarium is the projections of the night sky at various latitudes and longitudes at any moment in the past. Visitors are also treated to the position of unique constellations as seen from the northern and southern hemispheres.

The projection system, paired with the digital surround sound channels provide a surreal experience as you are taken on a journey through space.

The planetarium also houses a museum, showcasing ancient artifacts used thousands of years ago to observe and study the sky. One such artifact is the 2000-year-old Parthian Battery - discovered in the ancient city of Ctesiphon in 1936 – which is said to have been used as an electrical storage device. Another item of note is an astrolabe; a very ancient astronomical computer for solving problems relating to time and the position of the Sun and stars in the sky.

Other projects

There are a few other projects underway across the country to boost astronomical tourism capacities.

A major one is the Iran National Observatory in Kashan, Isfahan province.

The observatory is currently under construction and is slated to become operational by Autumn 2020.

Its design includes three stations with one large and two smaller telescopes, making it possible for the aficionados to enjoy looking deep into the skies.

The government is paying special attention to the tourism sector in line with the policies to diversify its revenue sources and reduce reliance on selling crude oil.

According to World Travel and Tourism Council’s annual research, the travel and tourism sector grew at 1.9% to contribute 1,158 trillion rials ($8.83 billion) or 6.5% of overall GDP and 1,334 jobs (5.4% of total employment) to the economy in 2018.

The WTTC report also shows international visitors spent 168,954 billion rials ($1.28 billion) in Iran in 2018. The council expects the number of international arrivals to stand at 6.5 million in 2019.

News Code 147531

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