Festival caters to stargazers

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Last month's lunar eclipse seen at the Southland Astronomy Society's grounds. Photo: Joseph Roberts

FOR stargazers, planet watchers and observers of all-things planetarium, the inaugural Southland StarDate will give those interested in the stars, planets and moon a chance to learn more about our night skies at the first astronomical festival.

Hosted by the Southland Astronomical Society (SAS) Inc, the three-day event will be held from Friday, June 11, to Sunday, June 13, with various talks, night sky viewing opportunities and trips.

SAS president Elizabeth King, who had been interested in the starry nights for as long as she could remember and had been a member of the society for the past eight years, said there would be something for people of all ages, from children to adults, and plenty of fun activities for families.

“The festival will be for the whole family, especially the little kids and the big kids at heart.

“This is the first one we have held, and as far as we are aware will be the only one held in winter this far south.”

Committee member Joseph Robert said the combination of less light pollution, especially at the society’s location at the former Oreti Sands Golf Club in Otatara, and with the festival being held in winter, offered premium viewing opportunities of the night sky.

“Being winter, you get longer hours of darkness, and there is always a chance of seeing an Aurora Australis.”

As well as locals, the duo were anticipating like-minded people from around the country to take part as well.

Mr Roberts said he believed the society was the most southernmost astronomical society in the world.

Set up 60 years ago, the society which had more than 50 members also hosted a public viewing night on Wednesday evenings.

Mr Roberts said because of the Blood Moon last Wednesday, the evening had a good turnout from the public.

Action-packed weekend
On the Friday of the festival, there would be an event meet and greet at the SAS grounds (Links Rd, off Sandy Point Rd, Otatara), followed by a talk on the Southland Dark Skies Projects by Amie Young, of Great South, and the Mount John Observatory by the director of the Otago Museum Dr Ian Griffin, via zoom. Later in the evening there would be an opportunity for night sky viewings and documentaries.

On the Saturday morning, a trip was organised to the Awarua Satellite Ground Station and Awarua Communications Museum.

Especially for the children, A Fun Science event would be presented by Fun with Science founder Amadeo Enriquez-Ballestero in the early afternoon, with rockets and radio telescopes.

A talk on The Life and Death of Star, The Life-cycle of Stars in our Galaxy and research from the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory would be presented by University of Otago associate professor Karen Pollard. Again, there would be chances for night sky viewing and documentaries in the evening.

Sunday will be another full-on day, beginning with a group photograph at the society’s clubrooms at Oreti Sands at Sandy Point, followed by a talk on Dark Skies and Light Pollution by Steve Butler and Damien McNamara.

In the afternoon there will be a up and gear walkabout’ session, again followed by viewings and documentaries in the evening.

On the Saturday and Sunday, there would also be coffee and food vendors at the society’s grounds.

  • For more information or to register, go to www.southlandastro.org.nz, the Southland Astronomical Society Facebook page or email info@southlandastro.org.nz or eventbrite.co.n
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