Some people say it looks like a flying saucer on a stand. Others say it looks like a giant mushroom. However you look at it, this odd-looking building in Chiayi stands out for a reason: it is the Tropic of Cancer landmark. If you have driven on the highway between Chiayi City and Tainan or if you have taken the regular train to any destination south of Chiayi City, chances are you have seen this building, for it is very hard to miss.
The building is called the Solar Exploration Center. It is located in Shueishang Township, a rural township south of Chiayi City where Chiayi Airport is also found. The Solar Exploration Center is actually the sixth generation landmark erected in Chiayi for the Tropic of Cancer. The first one was built during the time of the Japanese.
When the construction of north-south railway reached the Tropic of Cancer in 1908, a pillar was erected on the site to celebrate the event. The pillar has since been replaced and reconstructed several times, and in 2008, a new pillar was built to mark the centenary of the original one’s construction. Of all the cities and islands that the Tropic of Cancer cuts through, Chiayi and Taiwan are the biggest, respectively.
The Solar Exploration Center was established in 1995. It serves not just as the Tropic of Cancer landmark but also as an educational center where people can learn about the heavenly bodies. The building has five floors, with the Astronomy Education Center found on the first floor and the Astronomy Classrooms on the second, third, and fourth floors. The Solar Theme Exhibition Hall is on the fifth floor where viewing platforms were also set up to allow visitors to get a wonderful view of the surrounding areas.
Outside the building, you will find a park that features a playing area with the models of the 9 planets. You may visit the Sun Square, the Ancient Astronomy Walk, the Time Trail and the Green Tunnel, and the Ancient Astronomy Area in the park. Access to these areas does not require any fee.
In the park, you will also see an imaginary line that supposedly shows the area where the Tropic of Cancer passes through. Another imaginary line is likewise found on the highway. The Tropic of Cancer landmark simply signifies that the areas above it belong to the subtropical region while the areas below it belong to the tropical region. Hence, the areas above it are a bit cooler while the areas below it are warmer and more humid because they are closer to the equator.
The Solar Exploration Center building is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9 am to 5 pm while the park grounds are open anytime of the day. At 6pm to 10 pm daily, visitors are treated to a night light show. Keep in mind that you must avoid wearing inappropriate clothes like tank tops and slippers when you visit the place. You can reach the Tropic of Cancer landmark by taking a train to Chiayi and then taking a bus from Chiayi Train Station.