Trav­el­ling the earth to see the stars

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

Gaz­ing away from planet Earth has al­lowed a Tawa stu­dent to see plenty of the globe.

Tawa Col­lege stu­dent Con­nor Hale, 17, at­tended an astro­naut train­ing camp in Alabama, United States, last year, and will next week fly to Greece for the ul­ti­mate in col­lege stargaz­ing, the In­ter­na­tional Olympiad on Astron­omy and As­tro­physics.

Form­ing New Zealand’s first Olympiad team are Con­nor, Welling­ton East Girls’ Col­lege stu­dent Da­rina Khun, 18, and Onslow Col­lege stu­dents Daniel Yska, 17, and Navadhi Del­pa­chi­tra, 17.

All four are reg­u­lars at the Welling­ton As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety, and Con­nor and Da­rina al­ready know each other from space camp in Alabama.

The Olympiad will bring to­gether teams of up to five young peo­ple for an in­tense, 10- day round of tests, ex­am­i­na­tions and chal­lenges re­lat­ing to the heav­ens.

This year’s Olympiad, the sev­enth, will be held three hours from Athens in Vo­los.

Thirty-six coun­tries will par­tic­i­pate, but Greece and Eastern Euro­pean na­tions were the ones to beat, said Gor­don Hud­son, pres­i­dent of the Royal As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety of New Zealand.

Mr Hud­son will ac­com­pany the New Zealand team to Greece and coach them be­fore each day’s chal­lenges.

Olympiad par­tic­i­pants are re­quired to an­a­lyse reams of data, do prac­ti­cal ob­ser­va­tion of the sky, and solve prob­lems as a group. Cal­cu­lat­ing the amount of light emit­ted by a star might be re­quired, or mea­sur­ing how quickly a heav­enly body is mov­ing.

Test­ing can last five hours at a time.

‘‘They have very grilling ex­am­i­na­tions. It’s cer­tainly no hol­i­day for th­ese guys. It’s an in­tense com­pe­ti­tion,’’ said Chris Moni­gatti, Con­nor’s physics teacher and head of Tawa Col­lege’s astron­omy club.

‘‘It’s pretty heavy maths and num­ber crunch­ing.’’

The teens have been meet­ing twice a week for the­ory lessons and to pore over pre­vi­ous Olympiad ques­tions.

Swot­ting up on the north­ern hemi­sphere sky is es­sen­tial, al­though Con­nor and Da­rina are fa­mil­iar with north­ern con­stel­la­tions from their time in the United States.

Da­rina was most look­ing for­ward to the prac­ti­cal chal­lenges and get­ting her hands on some his­pec re­frac­tor tele­scopes. ‘‘Even if it’s hard, you get to ob­serve the night sky,’’ she said.

Nei­ther Da­rina nor Con­nor had been to Europe be­fore, so both were hop­ing to fit in some sight­see­ing among the sweat­ing over star charts.

Photo: AN­DREA O’NEIL

Stars in their eyes: As­tronomer Gor­don Hud­son will ac­com­pany stu­dents Da­rina Khun and Con­nor Hale to Greece next week for an astron­omy com­pe­ti­tion.

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