Star­dome cel­e­brates 50 years in March

Auckland City Harbour News - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - JAMES PASLEY

Auck­land’s Star­dome Ob­ser­va­tory is cel­e­brat­ing 50 years of spin­ning around the sun.

To mark the an­niver­sary in March it will set up tele­scopes in parks across Auck­land for stargaz­ers to use for free.

Star­dome has also in­vested $500,000 in in­ter­ac­tive space tech­nol­ogy, a new lego space dis­play as well as a com­put­erised up­grade for the Star­dome’s first te­le­scope.

It all started around the te­le­scope so it seemed fit­ting to up­grade it af­ter half a cen­tury of use, Star­dome’s chief ex­ec­u­tive David Houldsworth said.

Dr Grant Christie, Star­dome’s hon­orary astronomer, said more than a mil­lion eyes that have looked through the te­le­scope.

Christie has used the Star­dome’s te­le­scope since it opened in 1967, and has seen mul­ti­ple gamma ray bursts and ex­plod­ing no­vas.

Gamma ray bursts are short lived bursts of the most en­er­getic form of light, while no­vas are nu­clear ex­plo­sions on very small dense stars, called white dwarfs.

Christie re­mem­bered watch­ing the moon in the 1960s for un­ex­plained flashes dur­ing an Apollo space mis­sion, to an evening in 1994 when he opened the te­le­scope to the pub­lic so 300 peo­ple could watch 20 comets crash into Jupiter.

‘‘Each one would have been a catas­tro­phe for the Earth, but Jupiter just took them all in.’’

In 2012 he was there to watch the ’tran­sit of Venus’, a once in a cen­tury event where Venus moved in front of the sun.

‘‘The Star­dome has in­spired a lot of young­sters, and the great thing about as­tron­omy is that it’s not be­ing done for the profit.

‘‘If you’ve got an in­ter­est in it you can go a long way. You don’t need de­grees or a lot of money.’’

Ev­ery year 45,000 school chil­dren visit the Star­dome, and 175,000 vis­i­tors in to­tal.

Auck­land’s not the best city for watch­ing the stars, said Christie, be­cause of change­able weather and low al­ti­tude, com­pared to Hawaii and Chile where the astronomers en­joy 300 clear nights a year and an al­ti­tude of 3000m.

But it’s in a key ge­o­graph­i­cal po­si­tion.

‘‘We’re the first land west of Chile, so if they’re fol­low­ing an im­por­tant ob­ject and the sun rises for them then we can take over.’’

As for the next decade, it’s all about ex­pand­ing the dome’s phys­i­cal premises to en­able more space ex­plo­ration.

JAMES

Star­dome Ob­ser­va­tory’s CEO David Houldsworth said it all started around the te­le­scope.

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