Hudson’s one-man observatory
Getting the most out of a starry, starry night
Gordon Hudson doesn’t need fancy, modern equipment to view the night sky – but he has it anyway.
The Titahi Bay resident has an observatory in his back yard.
He first set it up in Pukerua Bay before his family moved to Titahi Bay in 2006.
An instrument engineer for Carter Observatory and president of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, his passion for looking at the stars goes back decades.
‘‘It’s something I’ve always been interested in, right back to my school days,’’ he said. ‘‘ Now I can look at the stars and planets every night. You’re looking back in time. It’s a real thrill.’’
And he does, every night when it’s clear, with the dome of his observatory reaching five metres from the ground.
With plenty of help from his computer whiz son, it has all the mod cons, controlled by laptops, touch screens and mapping systems.
The observatory cost $30,000 to put together.
He has four telescopes, powerful camcorders and still cameras that record on to a hefty server all the data he wants.
Saturn was prominent right now, he said, but Mars was a ‘‘disappointment’’ to view.
‘‘I walk out my back door and up some steps with my coffee and sit in a comfortable chair. It’s different from the days when I started doing this, but the philosophies of reading the stars and searching the sky remain the same.
‘‘When everything went digital, the skill went out of it a bit, but the enjoyment hasn’t.’’
There is plenty of light pollution over Porirua – including from the security lights of Titahi Bay North School until recently – but his massive telescope can overcome most obstacles.
His biggest thrills are tracking comets and asteroids and constantly recording images.
New Zealand had an excellent position at the bottom of the world for looking at the stars, he said.
The sky above Tekapo, in the South Island, was named last year as having the largest ‘‘dark sky reserve’’ in the world for its clarity.
Schools have astronomy in their NCEA curriculum and Mr Hudson has travelled to Greece with a group of Tawa College students to the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics.
‘‘The interest is certainly there, but it’s about keeping that level up [in the schools].
‘‘Tawa has a great programme going, with 20 to 30 students involved, and we hope the Olympiad will spark even more to join astronomy clubs.’’
Star-gazer: Gordon Hudson with his telescope, which he built himself and erected in his back yard.