Stardome celebrates 50 years in March
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.
Stardome Observatory’s CEO David Houldsworth said it all started around the telescope.