UC to open up NZ's largest telescope to the public

Mt John Observatory is New Zealand's leading observatory, and the most scenic. Photo: Supplied
Mt John Observatory is New Zealand's leading observatory, and the most scenic. Photo: Supplied
For the first time the University of Canterbury will be opening the doors of its mountain-top observatory to the public in a stellar overnight experience. It'll be just you, the experts and millions of distant solar systems.

Mt John Observatory is a haven for astronomers in the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve. The six high-powered telescopes are normally only seen by researchers. Since 1965 Mt John has become a site of pilgrimage for astro-tourism. However, few guests get access to New Zealand's most powerful telescopes – let alone for the whole night.

Dr Ian Griffin will be guiding stargazing novices. Photo: Supplied
Dr Ian Griffin will be guiding stargazing novices. Photo: Supplied
It will not only be the heavens that are star-studded. Celebrity astronomer Dr Ian Griffin, Astrophysicist and director of the Otago Museum, will be on hand to guide visitors through the heavens.

"The Mt John observatory has been described as one of the prettiest places on earth, and I don't doubt this for a minute," says Dr Griffin of the scenically appointed research facility.

However, beyond the views of the Southern Alps and blue Lake Tekapo, it's the views after sunset that appeal to the astronomer.

"On a clear night the views are stunning, which is why the University of Canterbury has located an array of telescopes there to study the secrets of the cosmos," he said.

See the Milky Way in all its glory. Photo: Supplied
See the Milky Way in all its glory. Photo: Supplied
As a regular passenger on Nasa's flying SOFIA Observatory, there are few people who know our skies better.

The experience for eight guests will include dedicated access to one of the country's largest telescopes and the guidance of Dr Griffiths and the observatory astronomers, from dusk until dawn.

Organising the event, managing director of Viva Expeditions Rachel Williams said it's just the kind of out of out-of-the-blue idea that appeals to New Zealanders looking for new experiences in their backyard: "They are looking for an experience that is different, outside the square, something truly memorable, this is that type of experience."

Four dates are on offer between March 19 and 22, with space for up to eight astro-tourists each night. See vivaexpeditions.com for more details.

 

 

 

 

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