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Have you ever questioned where in the world do we live, and what lies beyond the visible world? These have been intriguing questions for humans since 5000 years ago, for which our ancestors actively sought answers and went on expeditions into deep space, just to answer the existential question: where’s our place in the Universe?

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On June 2, 2018, Professor Sun Kwok held a public lecture in the Hong Kong Space Museum’s Lecture Theatre, attracting a crowd of over a hundred. Students, professionals, families and astronomy enthusiasts flocked to listen to Professor Kwok speak about how man made sense of our surrounding environment, and the development of a scientific mind throughout this process.

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Professor Kwok illustrated how our ancestors’ practical needs of planning for agriculture prompted them to closely observe the environment, turning their attention to the skies to examine how stars moved. From observations, humans began to imagine, hypothesize and correlate phenomena, eventually coming up with theories to explain how the celestial sky works. Slight discrepancies of actual observations with proposed theories sent them thinking further, resulting in more accurate explanations of the nature being born, and in the long course of history, the development of the scientific way of thinking and rational mind. Man deconstructed and constructed knowledge and built up a legacy of what we have today – a chest full of rich astronomical understanding to our disposal. Understanding how we have come this far is equally important as knowing what our current comprehension of the Universe is.

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Towards the end of the lecture, Professor Kwok engaged in a lively exchange of questions and answers with the audience, where visitors raised curious questions about specific details of the talk. Furthermore, visitors had an enjoyable time trying out the Armillary sphere app, co-developed by HKU TELI and Professor Kwok. With the aid of animated instructional videos and the guidance of TELI’s staff, visitors learnt how to operate this digitized ancient instrument. The app is powerful enough to predict the Sun’s motion on any given altitude, and some visitors even tried to work out the sunrise and sunset times on their birthdays!

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Many also took the opportunity to learn about the upcoming free MOOC course Our Place in the Universe, launching on June 12, 2018 on EdX. If you missed the public lecture, here is your chance to embark on a journey with us through the stars and into history!

For more details of the public lecture, please refer to this post by the Hong Kong Space Museum. If you are interested in trying the Armillary Sphere app, you can also check out and download from this post: https://tl.hku.hk/2018/06/finding-our-place-in-the-universe-a-mooc/

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What is this course about?

Where are we? How did we come to realization of where we are? Our curiosity of our environment sparked countless questions, to which our ancestors observed, experimented, thought and calculated. It has brought us to deep ventures into the night sky and beyond. This is a tale of us, trying to finding our Place in the Universe.

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The MOOC Our Place in the Universe goes online on June 12, 2018! Professor Sun Kwok, world-renowned astronomer and former Dean of Science of The University of Hong Kong, will take you on a 4-week journey through the stars, illustrating how our quest for understanding of the Universe over 5 millennia drove the development of rational thinking, and how of our perception of self and the world evolved through discoveries in astronomy.

What you will learn from this course:

  • How the scientific method was developed and its application
  • Qualitative and quantitative everyday astronomical phenomena and patterns and how such understanding has evolved over history
  • How to assess the effects of social environments on intellectual development through historical examples
  • The role of science in transforming our philosophical thinking

Register now!

The Universe in a Nutshell… no, in an App.
To spice up the learning experience, you will learn with a free app specifically designed for exploring the Universe, on top of informative videos and engaging animations.

ppp(Antonio Santucci’s Armillary Sphere, Museo Galileo)

Canto1Have you seen this fancy instrument in museums? This is an Armillary Sphere: for many millennia, our curious ancestors tracked the movement of the Sun, Moon and stars, and came up with patterns and theories to explain celestial movements. The Armillary Sphere crystallizes their astronomical discoveries and is a powerful instrument that can predict the time of Sunrise on any given day and on any altitude on Earth, and much more!

The Armillary Sphere is richly packed with astronomical information, waiting for you to explore and unlock by learning how to read it. It now has a digital incarnation in form of an app developed by Professor Kwok and TELI: download and learn how to use it by enrolling in the course!

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Professor Kwok actively promotes learning about the beauty of our Universe to everyone. In addition to creating this MOOC, Professor Kwok has also delivered many lectures and public talks. One of which is his public lecture in the Hong Kong Space Museum on June 2, 2018. Our Place in the Universe is also available in form of a book, if you cannot wait for the course to start learning about the Universe, you can also check out his book on Amazon!

Related articles:

  1. RTHK31 programme “Our Scientists” episode featuring Professor Kwok
  2. Full Episode of “Our Scientists” on YouTube
  3. The man who dedicates his life to the stars, an interview with Professor Sun Kwok.
  4. 郭新:探索無涯宇宙 尋找生命起源[Translated: Sun Kwok: Exploring the boundless Universe and finding the origin of life] (The Stand News, Oct 27, 2017)
  5. 港大太空研究實驗室總監郭新宇宙知識改變教育思維[Translated: Chair Professor of Space Science and Director of Laboratory for Space Research Sun Kwok: Knowledge of the Universe changes educational thinking] (Hong Kong Economic Journal, Oct 27, 2017)
  6. Professor Kwok’s Public Lecture in the Hong Kong Space Museum on June 2, 2018

Interested in knowing more?
Follow the Facebook page of Our Place in the Universe for course updates and astronomical tidbits, HKU online learning Facebook and Twitter for fresh course teasers and news related to the course!

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Professor Sun Kwok, a world-renowned astronomer, devotes his waking hours to exploring the wonders of the Universe. Why did he choose this path, and how did it work out for him? On 27th September, we visited Professor Kwok at the Laboratory for Space Research in Cyberport. In an interview with him, we got to know Professor Kwok as a scientist, an insightful educator, and an astronomy enthusiast brimming with passion.

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When did it all begin?
It was not Professor Kwok’s childhood dream to become an astronomer. Instead, when he was studying engineering at university in Canada, one day, as he read Frontiers of Astronomy by Fred Hoyle, he found out that astronomy has much to do with physics, chemistry and biology. He realized that science are tools enabling him to understand the patterns and motions of stars, and the fascinating unknown of their composition, structure and evolution. The idea of investigating the Universe with physics was exciting, and he was inspired to pursue astronomy, eventually making important discoveries and leaving a legacy.

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Curiosity and hard work paid off
For Professor Kwok, the Universe is still full of mysteries awaiting him to unveil. Despite hurdles, his curiosity and desire to solve mysteries drive him forward and help him overcome difficulties. Professor Kwok also adds it is all down to diligent preparation and effort, as one would never know when that eureka moment happens. His formula to reaching his goals is constant work, determination and hard work; not so much about natural talent or luck.

His efforts paid off. After countless ventures into deep space through telescopes, Professor Kwok is now the proud discoverer of many nebulae and stars. When asked how does he name his discoveries, Professor Kwok said, “it’s usually because of what they look like. In the case of cotton candy (nebula), it’s because of its shape!”

Places for stargazing
Professor Kwok has made a lot of professional observations on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. The telescopes on its summit stand 4200 metres above sea level, where the skies are clear and the clouds are well below the observer. It is the location that Professor Kwok considers his favourite to observe celestial wonders.

But is Hawaii the only good place to go stargazing? Many often complain that it is difficult to see stars in Hong Kong due to severe light pollution. Professor Kwok remarks that even in Hong Kong it is not impossible to see, but people just turn a blind eye to them. In fact, Professor Kwok adds, it is extremely easy to see a planet even in Hong Kong, and people are always bewildered when he points to Venus at twilight. Professor Kwok suggests us all to go to the countryside, far away from the city lights, and marvel at the gifts of nature to rekindle our interest for our environment, because “it is all what our ancestors did. Everyone should see the Milky Way once in their lifetime.”

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The next adventure
An inquisitive mind enabled ancient people to develop science and make technological advancements. Where is Professor Kwok’s curiosity leading him next? Currently, Professor Kwok works on astrobiology and is studying organic matter in space. He also believes that the integration of different fields of knowledge, such as chemistry, biology and geology, will create a multi-disciplinary perspective and be the future of astronomy.

Professor Kwok always encourages young people to pursue their dreams. “Because at the end, it is your life, and you have to have a career that is fulfilling”.

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Professor Kwok was featured in the 5th episode of RTHK’s series Our Scientists. It explores Professor Kwok’s journey in becoming an astronomer, his visions in education, as well as his recent research in organic matter in space.

Follow Our Place in the Universe’s Facebook page for video clips of our interview with Professor Kwok and other astronomical facts and interesting articles!

Our Place in the Universe Book Launch Party

Our Place in the Universe Book Launch Party

On 27th September, students, faculty staff, science and astronomy enthusiasts gathered at Professor Sun Kwok’s book launch party hosted by the Common Core Office to congratulate Professor Kwok’s release of the new edition of Our Place in the Universe. Professor Sun Kwok is a reowned astronomer who has made many important astronomical discoveries, particularly on nebulae, and is the former Dean of the Faculty of Science and Chair Professor of Physics.

Our Place in the Universe Book Launch Party

What is this book about?
Professor Kwok explains that this book is not about technical knowledge on astronomy and physics. Rather, by following the footprints of 5000 years of astronomical development, it shows the evolution of humans’ way of thinking – demonstrating how humans developed rational thinking through their observations and understanding of the universe. Our Place in the Universe takes us on a journey, studying how the development and advancement in science continuously change humans’ perception of self and the world.

Our Place in the Universe Book Launch Party

What other things do we learn about Professor Kwok?
At the book launch party, Professor Kwok shared his ideas on astronomy as an oldest and newest science, interesting bits of his journey of becoming an astronomer, thoughts on the future of science, and many more. To have a glimpse of the interesting questions raised by the audience, click on the link below:

Question: Do you think our current understanding of the Earth and the universe is correct?

Want to find out Professor Kwok’s answers to the audience’s other questions? Follow our facebook page for updates! https://www.facebook.com/ccst9012/

Our place in the universe is available on Amazon. Check it out at https://www.amazon.com/Our-Place-Universe-Understanding-Fundamental/dp/3319541714

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