About Us
About the Observatories
Quick Links
Location: Home > About Us > History
History of Yunnan Observatories
    Established in the late 1930s under the name Phoenix Mountain Observatory of Kunming when a group of astronomers fled from the Japanese invasion and settled inland, Yunnan Observatories (YNAO) is one of the many tributary institutions of the Academia Sinica, or Chinese Academy of Sciences. Since then, the name of the institution has been changed many times. Historical institutions which have a predecessor-successor relationship with YNAO include, but are not limited to, the Purple Mountain Observatory – Yunnan University Joint Astronomy Workstation in Kunming, the Purple Mountain Observatory Astronomy Workstation in Kunming, the Phoenix Mountain Observatory, and Yunnan Astronomical Observatory (from which the currently official abbreviation was derived, and maintained for legal reasons). English translations may have resulted in other unspecified variations of the above names. 

    Historically (1930s to 1970s), YNAO has contributed chiefly in the field of solar observation. Most notably during this period, observations of sunspots, solar eclipses and the solar corona did not cease during World War II and the civil war that followed, despite a noted shortage in food, photographic plates, and wages. 

    YNAO is located atop Phoenix Mountain, an area that has seen little human activity prior to the immigration and population booms of the 20th century. Due to the protection afforded by YNAO employees, in addition to numerous pine-planting programs aimed at conserving the local vegetation, the immediate neighborhood of the institution enjoys a much greener landscape in sharp contrast to its surroundings. 


Historical Timeline 

    Disclaimer: A great majority of official documents pertaining to the history of Yunnan Observatories have been lost due to periods of unrest. The following timeline has been reconstructed from accounts by employees of the observatory who served during the respective periods, and therefore suffers from the limitations of human memory. 


Astronomers from Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing flee from the Japanese invasion, some of whom arrived in Kunming. Some apparatus from PMO was brought with them. It soon became apparent that the war would not end any time soon. 


An observatory is established in Kunming, and named the Phoenix Mountain Observatory of Kunming, after its location. 


Solar chromosphere observations reactivated. 


First solar eclipse observation since leaving Nanjing. 


Stock of photographic plates used for Cepheid observations depleted. Modified Cepheid observation equipment to observe sunspots, which does not require photographic plates. Sunspot observation was not interrupted until 1945. 


After the war was over, there was a period during which little scientific work was done, as researchers debated whether to move back to Nanjing. The verdict was to stay. 

Sunspot observation resumed. 

The name of the institution was changed to Phoenix Mountain Observatory for simplicity. 


Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) founded. Phoenix Mountain Observatory is recognized by the Academy. 


By edict of the CAS, the name of the institution is changed to the Purple Mountain Observatory – Yunnan University Joint Astronomy Workstation in Kunming 


Equipment damaged and sent to the Yunnan University machine shop for repairs on April 2nd. 

Photographic plates arrive, observation of Cepheids continues. 


Added a nautical clock, a diffraction grating, and two reflective mirrors to the inventory of observatory equipment, courtesy of Prof. Zhanyun Chen, who brought them back from Nanjing after attending a meeting there. 


A mechanical dome arrives from Jiangsu. 

A Soviet expert observes that the temperature difference between night and day in Kunming is too great, and concludes that the city is not suitable for astronomical observations. His words would go unheeded. 


Chose a site for a new solar observing station. 

Sent an expert to Purple Mountain Observatory to help them set up a solar spectrograph. 

Built a building to house YNAO’s own solar spectrograph. 

First tree-planting program initiated. 


Purple Mountain Observatory sent experts with additional diffraction gratings to help set up YNAO’s own solar spectrograph. 


Tested how Shanghai Museum posters would react to direct sunlight by placing a sample under the spectrograph. 


Discussed filter standards with Purple Mountain Observatory Personnel. 

Sent representatives to attend the 2nd meeting of the Chinese Astronomical Society in Beijing. 

Received a gift of wide-angle lenses from Soviet colleagues. 

Started training personnel for satellite-tracking purposes. 


Converted telescopes into satellite-tracking equipment. 


Chromosphere observation building built. 

Chromosphere telescope arrived. 


First photographic observation of sunspots. 


Solar spectrograph functional. 


Changed name to “Yunnan Astronomical Observatory, Chinese Academy of Sciences” 

Laid down plans for more hardware. 


Divided the institution into 4 departments: Stellar Astrophysics, Solar Physics, Artificial Satellite, and Astrometry. 

Census showed a total of 350 workers at the observatory. 


Laid down plans to procure a 1m telescope from abroad. 

Purchased satellite tracking camera from Germany. 


Ordered the institution’s first computer from Shanghai. 


Established editorial board for observatory journal. 

Planned Solar Eclipse observations for 1980. 


Laid down plans for a new solar observing station. 


Hosted an international conference on solar astrophysics. 


Copyright © 2013 Yunnan Observatories, CAS All Rights Reserved.
Address: P.0.Box110, Kunming 650011, Yunnan, China
Tel: +86 871 63920919 Fax: +86 871 63920599