The National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), as an umbrella organization, was born in April, 2001 as part of a reorganization aimed at bringing China's many separate astronomical observatories under the authority of a single, overarching, specifically focused organization, albeit, one with many separate roofs. NOAC represents the fusion of five principal astronomical institutions consisting of four regional observatories and an astronomical research center. All five of these institutions were - and still are - subordinate to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), whose focus has been on education and academic cosmic observation. China's shift in focus with the creation of NAOC - now a superstructure to CAS - was in response to the increasing scientific importance of space exploration, both from a civilian as well as from a potential military perspective, a shift that has long since occurred in the US with the creation of NASA (the U.S.'s National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and to some extent in Europe with the creation of ESA (the European Space Administration).
Headquarter of NAOC
The four regional observatories are: Beijing Astronomical Observatory, Changchun Astronomical Observatory, Urumqi Astronomical Observatory and Yunnan Astronomical Observatory. The affiliated astronomical research center is the Nanjing Institute of Astronomical Optics & Technology (NIAOT). Beijing Astronomical Observatory now also serves as the headquarters of NAOC. Two separate observatories, Purple Mountain Observatory and Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, for complicated reasons having mainly to do with their long histories, during which they attained international distinction, remain as separate astronomical institutes, directly under the management of CAS, though indirectly, they operate within the sphere of NAOC. They are mainly engaged in academic research and related studies.
Besides NIAOT and the four principal astronomical observatories, NAOC, in coordination with CAS, operates an additional four research centers. NAOC also stands behind the engineering project which will build the large, prestigious Large Aperture Multi-fibre Optical Spectrographic Telescope (LAMOST).
Some of the areas of astrophysics that NAOC will be focusing on in the years to come include the following:
* Continued, in-depth study of the structure of the universe
* An understanding of the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies
* The excitation process of molecules as well as high energy astrophysics
* Our sun's magnetic activity
* The dynamics of the trajectories of heavenly bodies and artificial satellites
* The continued observation of our galaxy and the universe beyond, via earth telescopes and space probes
* The continued development of new technologies and methods in astronomy
In addition to NIAOT and the four regional observatories in China, NAOC, in a partnership with Argentina's San Juan University (the city of San Juan is located in the northwestern part of Argentina, not far from the border with Chile), jointly operates a monitoring station whose purpose is the high-accuracy laser ranging of manmade satellites, a so-called satellite laser ranging (SLR) station. The instrumentation for this highly complex monitoring station was built in China by NAOC researchers.
The combined staff of NAOC is about 650 individuals, some 500 of whom are technical and administrative personnel. In addition, NAOC attracts more than 100 visiting scientists and specialist technicians annually, who spend shorter or longer periods at one of NAOC's many institutions, some as guest professors. The creation of NAOC as a superstructure to CAS has also provided a welcome boost to China's national ambitions as a future active participant in mankind's quest to explore outer space.