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World Heritage Starlight Reserve in the Mackenzie Country


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Kiwithrottlejockey
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« on: November 15, 2009, 12:42:24 pm »


It's awesome to see this propsed World Heritage status for the Mackenzie Country night sky is progressing.

Fingers crossed that it receives the final approval and becomes official.

Anyone who has visited the Mackenzie Country and looked up at the night sky on a clear night will know what an awesome wonder it is.

I'll post a few news stories — some of them historic — about this proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve.

I've illustrated them with some of Fraser Gunn's awesome photographs of the night sky as viewed from the Mackenzie Country.
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Kiwithrottlejockey
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« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2009, 12:42:52 pm »


Sky park will give Tekapo a starring role

World Heritage Starlight Reserve proposed for Mackenzie Country

The Timaru Herald | 12:23AM - Thursday, 20 November 2008

SHINING LIGHTS: The night sky at Tekapo is likely to become a World Heritage site. — FRASER GUNN.

SHINING LIGHTS: The night sky at Tekapo is likely to become a World Heritage site. — FRASER GUNN.

SHINING LIGHTS: The night sky at Tekapo is likely to become a World Heritage site. — FRASER GUNN.

SHINING LIGHTS: The night sky at Tekapo is likely to become a World Heritage site. — FRASER GUNN.

THE skies above the Mackenzie Country could be the home of the world's first starlight reserve within months.

Unesco is likely announce the World Heritage site and Earth's first starlight reserve to coincide with the International Year of Astronomy (2009).

Tekapo's Graeme Murray is part of a driving force behind the sky reserve, helping initiate the proposal during his term as chairman of the Mackenzie Tourism and Development Board.

He said one of the important cornerstones of the Lake Tekapo community's long-term vision was to protect the area's unique dark sky.

"We want to better protect one of the Mackenzie's most valuable assets, its dark, starry sky. It has never been done anywhere in the world so we hope we'll be successful."

Former MP Margaret Austin and New Zealand Unesco representative is leading the initiative and she will attend the important Unesco meeting in Paris in January where further consideration will be given to the draft document that has been prepared.

Unesco and its world heritage committee seem keen to make the sky above Lake Tekapo and Aoraki-Mount Cook the pilot study for the world's first heritage Starlight Reserve, a type of park in the sky.

Through the initiatives of the Mackenzie District Council most of the required regulatory ordinances that might be required for such a status are already in place.

All Tekapo streets lights are sodium and shielded from above to reduce the glow and all household lights must face down — not up.

The reserve would give recognition and protection for the region's dark unpolluted skies.

New Zealand has just three of the 851 listed world heritage sites: Te Wahipounamu, Tongariro and the sub-Antarctic islands, and Mr Murray wants to add a fourth one — the Mackenzie Country's Dark Sky.

"The Mount John observatory science projects above the Tekapo township are also a special and valuable eco-tourist attraction but as the interest is great we sometimes have to limit the number of visitors particularly at night.

"The Mackenzie District Council is already leading New Zealand and many parts of the world with special ordinances and by-laws in place controlling the use of lighting and restricting light pollution in the area."


http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/news/726286
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« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2009, 12:43:19 pm »


Starlight star bright

By JEFF TOLLAN - The Timaru Herald | 10:32AM - Monday, 23 February 2009

HEAVENLY COMET: Comet McNaught pays a spectacular visit in 2007 and was caught from Godley Peaks Road, looking back south over Mount John and Tekapo Village. — FRASER GUNN.

HEAVENLY COMET: Comet McNaught pays a spectacular visit in 2007 and was caught from Godley Peaks Road, looking back south
over Mount John and Tekapo Village. — FRASER GUNN.


AS THE sun begins to sink below the horizon, ending another day in the Mackenzie Basin, darkness creeps over the landscape.

Amidst the twilight, a velvet black begins to stain the sky, advancing towards the horizon as the dying sunlight finally slips behind the Southern Alps.

It is broken only by a piercing starlight the silken sky filled with countless vivid specks, like a colander held to the light.

It is a transfixing sight; one which many people in the world have lost.

But while urban sprawl and development have choked the night sky from view in some parts of the world, residents of Tekapo and its surrounding areas are fighting to keep their skies crystal clear.

With the backing of the region and the country, a group of three people are fighting to have the area's stunning night skies recognised and preserved.

The vision is to establish a World Heritage Starlight Reserve in the Lake Tekapo and Aoraki/Mount Cook area, home of the Mount John Observatory.

It would be the world's first such reserve and the drive to have it established coincides with the International Year of Astronomy this year.

Just this week, former MP Margaret Austin returned to New Zealand from Paris where she put New Zealand's case to have the area declared a reserve to a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation conference.

A working party is now examining her proposal, and those of eight other countries also applying for starlight reserves.

She is one of the trio who have been working on the Tekapo bid. Professor John Hearnshaw, from the University of Canterbury, and local man Graeme Murray are her counterparts. They worked non-stop in readiness for the Paris conference and now have to prepare a preliminary report for the working group which is meeting next month.

Another report, a case study about the ins and outs of Tekapo and its astronomical background, also has to be prepared, to present to Unesco in a little more than a year's time.

Mrs Austin said more people will be needed to help from this point on.

"We've got to mobilise people now to help with the case study."

The interest the project has gained already has been phenomenal, she said. "I can't believe the degree of interest that there has been in the whole proposal. While I was in Paris I had contact with television, radio stations and endless numbers of reporters. It was astonishing."

For Mr Murray, a director of Earth and Sky which operates at the Mount John Observatory, the situation has been the same.

Even though the whole process is still being worked on, it has still attracted attention around the world, he added.

"We've even had CNN here for two days planning a documentary.

In the interim it's the waiting that is the hard part. But while Mrs Austin finds the length of time the whole process takes disappointing, she said it is understandable that Unesco was following its own process, dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's along the way.

A huge boost to the cause has been the Mackenzie District Council's motivation in protecting the sky above the observatory. Since 1981 the council has had strict lighting bylaws so Mount John's telescopes could look out into the galaxy.

All household lights must beam down, floodlights are a no-no and all outdoor lighting must be switched off between 11pm and sunrise.Sodium lights are also a bonus, and all street lights are designed to shine light down onto the street.

The other areas also applying for starlight reserves are mostly in isolated areas, away from residential areas. Tekapo's initiatives have certainly been a talking point, Mrs Austin said.

"One speaker said that if there was just one site in the world where people could see the stars they would not stop travelling to see them. Half the people of the world at present do not see the stars."

Mrs Austin said while she knew a lot of people came to the Mackenzie region, it was still a bit of a shock to learn that around 1.4 million tourists visited annually.

Tourism New Zealand reports that three-quarters of Japanese guests list star-gazing as the main reason they wanted to visit the country.

Destination Mount Cook Mackenzie general manager Philip Brownie said the starlight reserve will be another good tourist attraction for the region.

"It's going to be great [if the reserve is granted], but it's important to remember that there are other tourism operations and a starlight reserve will continue to add to those."

All up, he said, there are about 350 tourist-related businesses in the area.

Should the area end up being classified as a starlight reserve, it would bring in even more people, Mr Murray said.


MACKENZIE NIGHT SKY: Eta Carinae above Tekapo in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

MACKENZIE NIGHT SKY: Eta Carinae above Tekapo in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

MACKENZIE NIGHT SKY: Eta Carinae above Tekapo in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

MACKENZIE NIGHT SKY: Eta Carinae above Tekapo in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

One of Tekapo's best known night sky photographers, Fraser Gunn, wouldn't be surprised if it did.

He finds the Solar System, and Tekapo's view of it, fascinating and said it isn't until people get to the Mackenzie they realise just what can be seen.

He's thankful for the fact such an interest has been taken in protecting the night sky.

There's passion in his voice when he talks about his night-time ventures, walking from here to there to find the perfect shot.

There's a certain challenge to it, he said. It takes time, patience.

"Sixty per cent of the time the weather's nice to go out and get photos.

"I like a nice dark sky background and need it when there's next-to-no moon. It also needs to coincide with my days off," he said.

It makes for an extremely long day if you spend all night taking photos and then have to go to work, he said.

So, about two days a month, he gets his kit and begins taking photos from sunset to sunrise, with the occasional nap. In one night he can end up with anywhere from 500 to 1000 shots.

It's a captivating hobby and never boring, he said.

Mr Gunn has been in Tekapo for just on 10 years. Four years ago he began to get a taste for astrophotography a specialist area of photography where stars are tracked over the sky with a long exposure.

It allows the faintest stars in the sky to be seen and, because the camera is moving with them, there is no blurring. Tekapo's sky is perfect for it.

No-one knows that better than those who work at the iconic Mount John Observatory, easily seen from the township thanks to its recognisable white dome.

The observatory's resident superintendent, Alan Gilmore, said developers, residents and the council have all made a huge effort to ensure that the six telescopes on site get a crystal clear view of the heavens.

He said while the sky is already heavily protected from the regulations that have been put in place, a starlight reserve would, in a way, make an international feature of them.

The observatory, opened in 1965, is now operated as a field station of the University of Canterbury's Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Along with UC, New Zealand's Massey, Victoria and Auckland universities and Japan's Nagoya University all have a stake in the site, which is fast becoming known around the world.


http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/features/1393091
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« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2009, 12:43:35 pm »


Tekapo night sky among world's best

By FLEUR COGLE - The Timaru Herald | 5:00AM - Wednesday, 23 September 2009

OUR SOLAR SYSTEM: The Milky Way as viewed from the Mackenzie Country near Tekapo. — FRASER GUNN.

OUR SOLAR SYSTEM: The Milky Way as viewed from the Mackenzie Country near Tekapo. — FRASER GUNN.

OUR SOLAR SYSTEM: The Milky Way as viewed from the Mackenzie Country near Tekapo. — FRASER GUNN.

Tekapo has been named the fourth best place in the world to go stargazing by a United States travel website on top of receiving a powerful endorsement of its bid to become the world's first starlight reserve.

VirtualTourist.com, which has more than one million online members, listed Tekapo in its top places to count the stars.

Yosemite National Park claimed the No1 spot, beating out Scotland's Orkney Islands and the Gobi Desert.

Iceland's Lake Myvatn rounded out the top five.

The ranking is another boost for Tekapo's push for World Heritage status for its night skies.

Last month, Tekapo received its most important support so far, when it was declared the frontrunner for the world's first starlight reserve world heritage site at an International Astronomers' Union conference in Rio de Janeiro.

Canterbury University Professor John Hearnshaw, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, attended the conference and told The Timaru Herald the IAU's support was great news.

A working party at the conference indicated Tekapo was the prime contender for the first starlight reserve heritage site.

However, there were still some hurdles to overcome before the dream could become a reality, Professor Hearnshaw said.


OUR SOLAR SYSTEM: The Milky Way as viewed from Mount John in the Mackenzie Country. — FRASER GUNN.

OUR SOLAR SYSTEM: The Milky Way as viewed from Mount John in the Mackenzie Country. — FRASER GUNN.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is still to decide if it will confer status on starlight reserves and a decision will not be made before next June.

If Unesco proceeded, it would be 2011 before bids were considered, Professor Hearnshaw said.

Tekapo Earth and Sky Observatory Tours director Graeme Murray said it had been a big year for astronomy in the Mackenzie District, with record numbers of tourists visiting Mount John Observatory.

"I think it's certainly the starlight reserve that's brought a lot of attention to it. I also put it down to [the fact that] people are getting a wee bit more conscious about the night sky."


http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/news/2892337/Tekapo-night-sky-among-worlds-best
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« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2009, 12:44:00 pm »


A 100% PURE KIWI in a DARK SKY

ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY captures a KIWI in the MILKY WAY

Mount John Earth & Sky Observatory | Thursday, 24 September 2009

A Kiwi visible in the centre of the Milky Way. — FRASER GUNN/Mount John Earth & Sky Observatory.

A Kiwi visible (outlined) in the centre of the Milky Way. — FRASER GUNN/Mount John Earth & Sky Observatory.

A Kiwi visible in the centre of the Milky Way, with the second image showing the Kiwi outlined.
 — FRASER GUNN/Mount John Earth & Sky Observatory.


With With the recent addition of astrophotography as part of Earth & Sky's Stargazing Tours, experienced photographer Fraser Gunn has captured incredible images of a kiwi in the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy.

When viewing this region with the naked eye it is difficult to locate the bird, whereas the images produced with Fraser’s camera allow greater light and colour into the image giving the kiwi more definition as seen in the accompanying photographs (note the kiwi outlined in the second image).

This is such a great discovery for Lake Tekapo, which is bidding to become one of the first World Heritage Starlight Reserves in the world. How appropriate that a kiwi stands in amongst the stars that Lake Tekapo is striving to protect and that it has been discovered from Mount John.

Astrophotography has been offered as an extra activity with the stargazing tours for six weeks and the response has been outstanding. For customers who have an SLR-type camera it means that with hands-on instruction they can obtain their own starlight pictures, including the recently discovered kiwi.

Earth & Sky, which has been operating educational Stargazing Tours for the past five years, is noticing a considerable increase in activity and awareness of the public, both locally and internationally. Visitors keen to discover the wonders of the southern night sky are finding Mount John an ideal location, regarded world-wide as one of the most beautiful, easily accessible observatories in the world.


http://www.earthandsky.co.nz/press_release/press_release.html
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« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2009, 12:44:12 pm »


Star park one step from world recognition

The Timaru Herald | 5:00AM - Friday, 13 November 2009

NIGHT SKY: Horsehead in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

NIGHT SKY: Horsehead in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

New Zealand has been shortlisted as one of five world heritage night sky reserve sites to be considered at the Unesco world heritage meeting in Brazil next year.

The Tekapo-Aoraki/Mount Cook night sky bid was unanimously supported by a Unesco meeting in Spain this week.

It will join sites in Austria, Spain, Chile and Hawaii to be considered at next year's Unesco World Heritage Committee in Brazil. Should the bids be accepted, they will be classified as World Heritage Reserves.

Starlight Reserve Committee member Graeme Murray said the latest announcement was a "huge step". "We have passed a major obstacle."

He said Tekapo's first proposal to Unesco in 2007 was the inspiration for other international observatories to follow suit.

"It's a pretty radical concept, and Tekapo has been leading the way.

"I think it has taken a lot to convince some of the old guard of Unesco that heritage can also be what's up in the sky as well as on the ground."


NIGHT SKY: Horsehead and Orion in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

NIGHT SKY: Horsehead and Orion in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

NIGHT SKY: Horsehead and Orion in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve — FRASER GUNN.

Committee chairwoman Margaret Austin presented New Zealand's bid to Unesco in Santa Cruz this week.

"I am quite amazed at what we have achieved so far," she said.

"People are starting to realise the importance of the night sky and its heritage values, there are places in the northern hemisphere where the night pollution is such that people cannot see the stars any more.

The Mount John Observatory, on the other hand, has absolutely pristine clear visions, thanks partly to the light ordinance levels set by the Mackenzie District Council.

"The potential for astro-tourism is huge."

Mount John is home to six telescopes including the country's biggest telescope, which measures 1.8 metres across, and can observe 50 million stars on a clear night. Canterbury University's physics and astronomy department uses the observatory as a research facility.

Mr Murray said the committee would start on a final proposal for the Unesco committee.

"The result has immense implications for the Mackenzie Basin, not just for tourism, but also for future education and research ... because everything one looks at up there is literally going back in time."


http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/news/3058530/Star-park-one-step-from-world-recognition
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« Reply #6 on: November 15, 2009, 12:44:28 pm »


Professor backs Mount John as reserve

By MATHEW LITTLEWOOD - The Timaru Herald | 5:00AM - Saturday, 14 November 2009

AWESOME SKY: Orion Nebula in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

AWESOME SKY: Orion Nebula in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

A world-leading astronomer supports Tekapo's bid for a World Heritage Reserve.

Professor Robert Kirschner, from Harvard University, has been in the country over the last week as part of the Royal Society of New Zealand's lecture tour and visited the Mount John Observatory in Tekapo yesterday.

Professor Kirschner said he was delighted with this week's announcement that Tekapo/Aoraki-Mount Cook had been shortlisted as one of five world heritage night sky reserve sites to be considered at next year's Unesco world heritage meeting.


AWESOME SKY: Running Chicken in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

AWESOME SKY: Running Chicken in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

"I think it's a great way to get people thinking about what's out in the universe," he said.

"New Zealand may take it for granted that they've got this whole resource right above them. We can see through time. Astronomy is a strange subject in that you do a lot of your research by looking out in the skies and making equations rather than just working with raw materials on a laboratory desk."

"Even by looking into something simple as a telescope, you can see light that was emitted long ago."


AWESOME SKY: Sculptor Galaxy in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

AWESOME SKY: Sculptor Galaxy in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

Professor Kirschner is the author of The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos. His work with the "High-Z Supernova Team" on the acceleration of the Universe was dubbed the Science Breakthrough of the Year for 1998 by Science Magazine.

"It's quite difficult to explain to people that our universe is expanding at rates faster than we ever imagined 20 years ago."

"It goes against most people's understanding of gravity. When you throw something up in the air, you think it would have to come down. But it appears the universe is dominated by a mysterious dark energy that drives cosmic acceleration."


AWESOME SKY: Seven Sisters in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

AWESOME SKY: Seven Sisters in the skies above the Mackenzie Country in the proposed World Heritage Starlight Reserve. — FRASER GUNN.

Professor Kirschner said it had been only in the last 20 years that astronomers are coming to terms with the phenomenon.

"It actually stretches back to 1917, when Albert Einstein proposed a ‘cosmological constant’. He ditched that equation when it was discovered the universe was expanding, and not static."

"It was called his great blunder, and yet we're able to use that cosmological constant now to describe how dark energy dominates the universe."


http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/news/3062430/Prof-backs-Mt-John-as-reserve
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« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2010, 12:57:12 am »


Southern skies put on a show

The Press | 11:54AM - Friday, 09 April 2010

LIGHTS IN THE SKY: The Southern Lights over Tekapo's Church of the Good Shepherd.
LIGHTS IN THE SKY: The Southern Lights over Tekapo's Church of the Good Shepherd.

For three nights in a row this week, the sky over the South Island has treated star-gazers and photographers to a spectacular display of the Southern Lights.

The phenomenon was captured by a photographer in Tekapo and shows the Southern Lights or aurora australis lighting up the night sky above the Church of the Good Shepherd.

The YouTube video clip (below) was made using a collection of still photographs taken using time-lapse technology and eliptical lenses.

The aurora australis is caused when particles of light are emitted into the Earth's atmosphere and collide with solar winds.

This results in a natural light show in the night sky, often with glowing colours in red, green and white.

The aurora can be seen by the naked eye, and is often seen by New Zealanders due to our close proximity to the South Pole.




http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/3565698/Southern-skies-put-on-a-show
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« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2010, 08:47:28 pm »


Austin reaches for (Tekapo) stars

By MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD - The Timaru Herald | 5:00AM - Wednesday, 21 July 2010

WHEN MARGARET AUSTIN packs her bags for Brazil tomorrow, she will be thinking of the stars.

The former cabinet minister and chancellor for Lincoln University will be part of a New Zealand delegation at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (Unesco) world heritage meeting in Brasilia.

The delegation will put the Mackenzie district's case to Unesco, and should it be accepted, it will be able to apply to have its night sky classed as a world heritage reserve. "It has been five long years to get to this point, and there is at least another 18 months to go, but the interest has been phenomenal," she said.

"There is something quite special about our night sky. It is worth considering that in nearly 50 per cent of the world, people can no longer see the stars at night."

Mrs Austin first heard about the idea in 2005 when she was chairwoman of the National Commission for Unesco in New Zealand. Since then, she has been involved in "countless" meetings and conversations trying to promote the idea. Delegations from Spain, Chile, Hawaii and Australia have also expressed interest in having their night skies declared as world heritage reserves.

"It is a different concept because, traditionally, we think of heritage sites as monuments, but there is so much international interest in this bid. It's been a long process. There have been times when I've moved from elation to frustration and back to elation again, as we work through the international guidelines."

Tekapo is home to Mount John Observatory, home to the country's biggest telescope, which measures 1.8 metres across.

"My background is in biology rather than astronomy. Yet when you look through the telescope at Mount John, and see the rings around Saturn, it is quite an astonishing experience," Mrs Austin said.

Mount John Observatory site manager Alan Gilmore said there was an increasing interest in astronomy within the last decade.

Mr Gilmore, who looks after the day-to-day running of the observatory on behalf of Canterbury University, said the fact that the Mackenzie District Council instituted light ordinance levels in the Tekapo region nearly two decades ago had been a huge benefit.

"The sky is a really dynamic place. You can see how fascinated school children are by it when the observatory takes class trips. I think the idea of the night sky as a world heritage reserve is an idea whose time has come, and if anyone is going to be able to convince Unesco, it would be Margaret," he said.


http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/news/3938651/Austin-reaches-for-Tekapo-stars
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« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2012, 05:40:15 pm »


Tekapo skies showcase Milky Way

Night skies famed for clarity

The Timaru Herald | 4:20PM - Thursday, 17 May 2012



THE NIGHT SKIES over Lake Tekapo are famed for their clarity says Canterbury University astrophotographer Fraser Gunn, who shot this stunning footage of the Milky Way in April.

As part of Canterbury University's Project Centauri, Gunn is part of a team looking for evidence at Mount John Observatory of Earth-mass planets in the habitable zone of alpha Centauri.

In a side project he shot the Milky Way footage in April, spending the entire night filming the galaxy as it moved across the sky.

The film shows the Milky Way galaxy rising and passing over lake Tekapo at about 30 frames per second.


http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/news/6941168/Tekapo-skies-showcase-Milky-Way
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« Reply #10 on: May 17, 2012, 06:36:28 pm »


Here is another clip from Fraser Gunn, also taken from Mount John....





The best way to view both video clips is in Full Screen mode.
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« Reply #11 on: June 12, 2012, 01:48:01 pm »


It's a heavenly view

District ‘among best stargazing sites on Earth’

By MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD - The Timaru Herald | 5:00AM - Monday, 11 June 2012

STARRY NIGHT: The milky way over Lake Tekapo. — Photo: FRASER GUNN.
STARRY NIGHT: The milky way over Lake Tekapo. — Photo: FRASER GUNN.

A MAJOR heritage organisation has declared the Mackenzie district's night sky one of the most special on Earth.

International Dark Skies Association executive director Bob Parks announced the district's night sky had been granted "gold level" dark sky reserve status at the International Starlight Conference in Tekapo yesterday.

"That means the skies there are almost totally free from light pollution.

To put it simply, it is one of the best stargazing sites on Earth," Dr Parks said.

"The reserve seeks to honour that history by keeping the night sky as a protected and integral part of the area's natural and cultural landscape. It is the biggest dark sky reserve in the world and the only ‘gold’ rated reserve."

The IDA has previously recognised only two other starlight reserves, one in Quebec and another in England.

Three former prime ministers — Jim Bolger, Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark — wrote letters in support of the proposed Aoraki-Mackenzie dark sky reserve.

Margaret Austin, who is leading a campaign to get the Mackenzie's night sky declared a World Heritage Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), was delighted with the announcement.

"It puts the Mackenzie on the world stage as a destination for astronomy and astro-tourism," she said.

"The ability to view the night sky unimpeded, thanks to the light ordinance levels that the district council introduced — in their incredible foresight — more than 30 years ago, makes the area an absolute wonder."

Mrs Austin said the existing ordinance levels were already sufficient.

"When we talk about heritage, we often forget about what we see right above us," she said.


BRIGHT LIGHTS: The Aurora Australis seen from Tekapo late on the evening of March 16th, 2012. — Photo: FRASER GUNN.
BRIGHT LIGHTS: The Aurora Australis seen from Tekapo late
on the evening of March 16th, 2012. — Photo: FRASER GUNN.


Mackenzie Mayor Claire Barlow described the announcement as "very exciting", adding she believed it would open up a whole new avenue of tourism for the Mackenzie District.

Mrs Barlow said work on having the area's night sky declared a World Heritage Reserve would still continue.

Mount John Observatory superintendent Alan Gilmore said the IDA's announcement was the culmination of "a couple of decades' work".

"It certainly gives even greater incentive for the Government to help protect the night sky [from light pollution]," he said.

"I understand the Twizel community asked for the light ordinance levels to extend to their town. Astro-tourism has been building over the years: a Tourism NZ survey said 74 per cent of Japanese people listed stargazing as the main reason why they wanted to visit our country."

Mackenzie Tourism general manager Phil Brownie said the decision would have enormous ramifications. Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park in Scotland had recently begun to assess the impact of dark sky astronomy tourism on the local economy.

Seventy-seven per cent of guest houses and bed-and-breakfasts had reported an increase in bed-nights due to the dark sky park.

The International Starlight Conference runs until Wednesday.


http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/news/7076800/Its-a-heavenly-view
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« Reply #12 on: June 12, 2012, 02:04:19 pm »


Dark Sky's heritage status could take years

By PAUL GORMAN - Fairfax NZ News | 5:00AM - Tuesday, 12 June 2012

TRANSIT OF VENUS: Sexier by far than the more common Transit of Mercury.
TRANSIT OF VENUS: Sexier by far than the more
common Transit of Mercury.


WINNING World Heritage Site status for the fledgling Aoraki Mackenzie Dark-Sky Reserve could be many years away.

Lake Tekapo township is celebrating its new-found fame as the world's biggest and best dark-sky reserve.

But a cautionary note of the difficulties it faces in achieving the next step has been sounded by the International Astronomy Union's astronomy and world heritage working group chairman, Clive Ruggles.

The Leicester University academic told the third International Starlight Conference in Tekapo yesterday that sites with strong cultural, monumental and historic connections with the night sky were better placed to make it through the exhaustive application process.

In 2005, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) expressed concerns about the lack of science heritage sites and set up the working group to look at astronomical heritage, but bids had to have "outstanding universal value" to succeed.

It had recognised there was tangible heritage — immovable in the case of observatories and mobile in terms of historic equipment — and intangible heritage, such as ideas and knowledge, Ruggles said.

"But how do we relate those to the dark sky? To natural heritage values?" he said.

"What's clear from here is the Unesco view is dark-sky reserves and parks cannot be considered as world heritage sites on their own. What you have to say is how the natural heritage of the dark sky fits in with the cultural heritage."

Ruggles said some sites had more concrete connections, especially those with monuments, like Stonehenge, or ancient observatories, such as at Jantar Mantar in India.

"Maori in this region have the strong connection through astronomy and navigation ... but with the [Unesco] convention as it stands, you are looking more at actual places and sites," he said.

"The rules do change, but we have to weigh up these major issues and influence the process in what we consider to be a sensitive way ... Clearly [the new reserve] is exceptional."

Conference organiser Professor John Hearnshaw, of Canterbury University, said world heritage status was still "a distant dream".

Reserve working party chairwoman Margaret Austin led a failed bid for heritage status that started in 2006.

A workshop will be held after the conference to look at ways of persuading the Unesco committee.


SEXY STARS

Astronomers wanting to make stargazing more popular should resort to the time-honoured way of selling anything — sex. That is the view of former Canterbury University Mt John Observatory director William Tobin, now an astronomer in France and an expert on the Transit of Venus. Tobin told the third International Starlight Conference yesterday there were "lessons to be drawn" for the wider field of astronomy from the major interest in last week's transit.

Venus — "the goddess of love, beauty, sex, fertility, prosperity and military victory" — had inspired poetry, novels, short stories, theatre, film, art, music, stamps, cartoons and even sermons.

In comparison, Transits of Mercury, which were eight times more common than those of Venus, had generated just a fraction of the artistic output, Tobin said. "So when you pit the goddess of love and sex against the god of cowherds, weights and measures, commerce and thieves, there's only one conclusion – that sex sells," he said.

"So bring in sex. There are plenty of opportunities for sexing up the night sky. The evidence of the Transit of Venus shows it's the way to go."


http://www.stuff.co.nz/science/7081818/Dark-Skys-heritage-status-could-take-years
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