Sunday, May 26, 2013

New Zealand Updates, pt. 1

I know, it's been forever. Think of it as a good thing. I've been busy, on the road, and without the downtime to upload pictures and post updates. I've been seeing a lot in NZ, which is why updating on my activity from the last month will have to be done in two parts.

Last time I checked in, I was just getting settled in Christchurch. But you know how things go when a Watson fellow gets settled -- we move on! Almost immediately after landing in New Zealand, I was contacted by Robert McTague of the South Canterbury Astronomical Society in Timaru, just a few hours south of Christchurch. Robert was organizing events for Global Astronomy Month at the local museum in Timaru, and wanted me to come down as a guest speaker. (Did you know that April was also GAM2013, organized by Astronomers Without Borders? I actually was asked to write for their blog, and you can see that post here.) Thanks to Robert, I was able to spend a lovely three days in Timaru and Geraldine, hosted by Peter and Wyn Alduos of SCAS, who have their own observatory above the garden of their lovely Geraldine home.
South Canterbury Museum, Timaru, NZ.
The event at the museum went really well. There was a talk/activity for kids in the afternoon as well as one for adults in the evening. The kids' event was very well attended, probably because it was a rainy day of school holidays and Robert did a wonderful job advertizing. As part of the activity, I had each kid draw what they thought the Universe looked like. There were drawings of undiscovered planets, whacky-looking aliens, raging black holes, soaring rocket ships, many-pointed stars, and much more. I then gave my own brief "tour of the Universe" with plenty of time at the end for kids to ask questions. It was great, and, I must admit, very much how I envisioned my project going when I first crafted the idea over three years ago.

Kids drawing the Universe. Timaru, NZ

The talk in the evening for adults went well, too. I tried to use the opportunity to engage and share why I love astronomy, and why I think exploring it should be a right for all people, and not just scientists. Robert, who is a professional photographer/videographer, taped this, and made this video for my visit. (In all honesty, I can't bring myself to watch it. It's too weird to see myself speak. But others have told me it's nice, and I'm very happy that Robert took the time to put it together.)

From Timaru/Gerladine, Robert, his wife Heather, Peter, Wyn and I all took a trip to Lake Tekapo, home to the Mt John Observatory. We got a wonderful tour of all of the telescopes and equipment from Observatory Superintendent Alan Gilmore, and enjoyed the lake on the perfect sunny day as well.

With Robert, Peter, Heather and Wyn in front on Lake Tekapo, NZ. (Photo by Robert McTague)
Tour of the Mt. John Observatory by Alan Gilmore (left).
I then spent three days in Queenstown, known as New Zealand's adrenaline capital for its abundant opportunities to bungee jump, skydive, and do other activities where you jump off of things. (My favorite travel show Departures even did a whole episode about it.) I didn't partake in any of those activities, but instead took some really beautiful hikes and enjoyed the stunning mountain and lakeside views.

Queenstown, NZ
Hiking above a rainbow! Ben Lomond Track, Queenstown.
Hiked out of sad weather, above the clouds and to the top. Ben Lomond Track, Queenstown, NZ.
I returned to Mt John after Queenstown to enjoy New Zealand's most pristine skies at night. This area of New Zealand actually has such clear skies that the International Dark Sky Association gave it a gold-rating. And it's true! Even right above the town of Tekapo, the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds are perfectly visible.
Night Skies over the town of Tekapo, NZ
While at the Observatory, I joined a tour given by Earth&Sky, Mt John's astro-tourism company. The tour was great and included telescope viewing, a tour of objects in the sky-at-large, huge coats and abundant amounts of hot chocolate. The tours can be quite pricey, but they're high-quality and well worth it. Earth&Sky also offers an astrophotography workshop, which I joined in on using my *first-ever* D-SLR camera, which I purchased from a desperate traveler for very cheap in Queenstown. Here are some of the pictures I took using Earth&Sky's tracking mount:
Orion Nebula. Mt John Observatory, Tekapo, NZ
Eta Carina. Mt John Observatory, Tekapo, NZ
47 Tucane. Mt John Observatory, Tekapo, NZ
For my final week in Christchurch, I visited several schools with teacher Ben McNabb, who is currently on a fellowship funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to study astronomy at the University of Canterbury. These were my first experiences visiting New Zealand classrooms, and I must say, I was pretty blown away. The resources, the staffing, the community involvement, the morning "fruit breaks"! After months of seeing a variety of schools, some with a complete dearth of human and technological resources, it was great seeing fully-equipped and intentional school communities. It was also wonderful having Ben as a co-teacher. Since he has more experience in the classroom, and I have more experience with astronomy, we were able to learn a lot from one another in the week we had.
With Ben and a class of intermediate school students. Christchurch, NZ
With primary school students. Christchurch, NZ
That's all for part 1. In the next installment, Little Me goes to the North Island, back to the South Island, and back to the North as I continue to meet amazing educators and speak with a variety of students. Thanks for reading!

PS: The blog has had some updates! Check out the "Astro-Photography" page for photos such as the ones above as well as the "Where in the World?" page for a map of all the places visited this year.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool! I watched the video (being a fan of the museum via Facebook) & loved the whole "scale of the universe" angle :-) I grew up just outside of Timaru, and the skies are so wonderful there - so clear, and the Southern hemisphere has the very best views, as you know! Growing up there under those skies turned me into an astronomer (watching Sagan's "Cosmos" as a wee kid didn't hurt either!) Am glad to see you had a great time around my hometown :-) Karen