Kiwis eye sky for international astronomy year
03 Apr 2009
Perfect autumn weather conditions have favoured star gazers in New Zealand taking part in a global 100-hour event to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy.
100HA, which translates as 100 Hours of Astronomy, aims at training all eyes to the sky to promote astronomy and educate the world about the universe.
More than 1500 events in 130 countries worldwide, including 67 in New Zealand, have been registered for the 100 hours between 2 - 5 April.
The 2009 International Year of Astronomy celebrates the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo, and one of the main goals is to encourage as many people as possible to experience looking through a telescope.
Free star gazing
Amateur and professional astronomers across New Zealand will have telescopes set up in public places such as busy streets, major shopping centres and public parks, offering people free viewing.
Jennie McCormick, an Auckland-based amateur astronomer who is the international coordinator for the 100HA worldwide events, said it might be the first chance many people had to look through a telescope.
"We’re encouraging everyone to come along and have a close up look at our Sun, the beautiful planet Saturn and our nearest neighbour the Moon.
"It will be a truly awesome experience to take part in this event, even more so with the knowledge that millions of other citizens around the world will be viewing the sky and at the same times as us," she said.
Plenty to see
One Tree Hill’s Stardome Observatory in Auckland will also be offering free viewing as part of a 100HA event. The observatory will be open around the clock for solar and night-time viewing with five telescopes available for use.
Auckland Astronomical Society president Grant Christie said star gazers in New Zealand would have plenty to look at during 100HA.
"The moon will be well-placed and Saturn will be visible in the early evening sky. The sun has been fairly quiet, it is not covered in sunspots which is what we like to see," he said.
Saturn should be visible from 10pm, rising in the eastern sky.
"The night sky is often seen as magical. Understanding that there is a rhyme and reason to it all can spark a lasting interest in the science of astronomy. It could be a great gift from parents to children to share an experience like this," said Mr Christie.
As well as 100HA, New Zealand will stage other astronomy-focused events in 2009, many planned to coincide with Matariki - the Māori New Year celebration that takes place when the Pleiades star cluster appears above New Zealand.
It is also hoped that the International Year of Astronomy will see a decision on New Zealand's bid to get the world’s first 'World Heritage Starlight Reserve', a national park in the sky.
New Zealand conservationists have applied to UNESCO for the reserve in the sky above Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mount Cook in the South Island's Mackenzie Country - part of which is already a New Zealand national park.
- Māori New Year celebration
Heritage starlight reserve moves closer
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