Stars out again in Wellington
(tks Tourism NZ for this – it will be on my list of to-do things next time I’m in NZs wonderful capital!))
26 Mar 2010
Stars and star-gazers are out again in Wellington, New Zealand, as the Carter Observatory readies to reopen tomorrow (27.03.10) after a major two-year renovation.
The revamped observatory has a distinctly Kiwi flavour that combines scientific and Māori astronomy, with special focus on the importance of the stars to traditional Māori navigation
Heralded as a world-class facility and a must-see visitor destination, the white-domed observatory is an iconic form that sits at the top of the Botanic Garden – overlooking central Wellington and only two minutes walk from the capital city’s famous cable car.
Virtual space tour
Carter Observatory’s brand new nine-metre planetarium has a full dome digital theatre offering a virtual tour into space. In this hands-on multimedia space visitors control their own space experience starting with the beginning of time.
A simulated black hole experience will be another major draw-card. This exhibit begins with a digital black hole display that takes a trip through the “Big Bang” theory on the beginning of the universe. Visitors are ushered through a simulated “black hole” experience – a tunnel complete with comets and meteorites that explains the fragility of the solar system.
The black hole exhibit uses a range of interpretive media such as graphics and digital animation to bring space to life and create a fun interactive experience.
The observatory also applauds the roles of leading Kiwi astronomers Sir William Pickering and Beatrice Tinsley.
Beatrice Tinsley’s research was fundamental to the astronomical understanding of how galaxies evolve with time.
Sir William Pickering, who was born and grew up in Wellington, became a pivotal figure in the American space race and a highly respected scientist in his time.
Carter Observatory director Sarah Rusholme says the changes are amazing.
“The aim of the revamp was to make it a must-see visitor destination and open up the interior to create flexible exhibition spaces. It’ll make a trip up on the Cable Car even more of a memorable experience,” Rusholme said.
History of the stars
Carter Observatory is named after Charles Rooking Carter, an English politician and philanthropist who moved to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital in 1850.
When Carter died in 1896, he left a portion of his estate for the establishment of an astronomical observatory in Wellington – although that didn’t happen until 1941.
The observatory started life as a base for astronomical research in New Zealand but has also developed into an important educational facility.
Carter Observatory has two main telescopes – the Thomas Cooke telescope, which has been there for more than a century, and the Ruth Crisp telescope, donated by Kiwi writer and philanthropist Ruth Crisp.
Tātai Arorangi or Māori astronomy is an important part of Māori culture and history.
Tohunga Māori (wise men and women) spent a lot of time studying the stars and their movements to determine seasonal cycles, the passing of time and directions.
The appearance of Matariki (also known as Pleiades, Seven Sisters or Messier 45) – a distinctive star cluster in the constellation of Taurus – marks the beginning of Matariki or the Māori new year. The seven stars are believed to be Matariki and her six daughters. The end of the year is identified with the disappearance of Matariki.
Māori ancestors also navigated their waka (canoes) by the stars. This form of celestial navigation was used for deep sea voyages and the placement of the sun, moon and stars was a key reference as they explored new horizons.