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About this blog

News and articles from the Christchurch Astro Tours team

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The 9 stars of Matariki

Matariki is the Māori name for a cluster of stars. This year, from July 6 to 9, Matariki will re-appear in the dawn sky – signalling the start of the Māori New Year.
 
It is a time to celebrate new life, to remember those who’ve passed and to plan for the future. And it’s a time to spend with whānau and friends – to enjoy kai (food), waiata (song), tākaro (games) and haka.
 
Our tūpuna (ancestors) would look to Matariki for help with their harvesting. When Matariki disappeared in April/May, it was time to preserve crops for the winter season. When it re-appeared in June/July, tūpuna would read the stars to predict the upcoming season – clear and bright stars promised a warm and abundant winter while hazy stars warned of a bleak winter.
 
Because Māori follow the Māori lunar calendar, not the Gregorian calendar, the dates for Matariki change every year. It is a common belief that Matariki has seven visible stars. But Matariki actually has nine visible stars, according to leading Māori astronomer, Dr Rangi Matamua, who has been researching Matariki for over 30 years. As part of his research, Dr Matamua found that some of his own tūpuna were able to see nine stars.
 
The nine visible stars include: Matariki, Tupuārangi, Waipuna-ā-Rangi, Waitī, Tupuānuku, Ururangi, Waitā, Pōhutukawa and Hiwa-i-te-Rangi.
 
Each star holds a certain significance over our wellbeing and environment, as seen from the Māori view of the world.   Matariki1_LowEnglish.pdf

Lunar eclipses and selenelions

Saturday morning saw us take on the challenge of carrying the 12 inch telescope up the Port Hills to Victoria Park in an attempt to help people understand the lunar eclipse phenomena and what they were seeing. We chose a location that we thought was readily accessible, but forgot to take into account the gates would be shut at that time of day (we'll learn for next time). So we set up on the side access road to the dog exercise area and were very shortly joined by around 100 people and a camera crew from Newshub.   There had been a lot of discussion in the media about the theoretical astronomical event of the selenelion, where both the eclipsed moon and the sun could be visible in either horizon. Whilst the theory might be correct, in practicality, there is no way this event would ever come to light, if you excuse the pun. A darkened, eclipsed moon against a brightening sky would mean the moon would become invisible at least 20 minutes prior to sunrise. However, despite clear skies overhead, ultimately the event was cut short (even before totality occurred) by a Nw'erly cloud bank being held back by the mountain range.           Despite that, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and took in the spirit of a beautiful morning and sunrise. The resulting article was well produced and included footage of people viewing the event through the telescope and concluded with a short interview from one of our Directors, Gary Steel.               Click below to see the report from Newshub Blood moon Kiwis turn out in droves to look for the selenelion.mp4

Winter solstice

At 22:07 tonight the sun reaches the northernmost point in it’s annual journey around the sky. We go past our shortest day and from tomorrow the days get longer. So, if you are in the Southern hemisphere, happy winter solstice. It’s also the longest night of the year, so go out and enjoy our amazing Southern Hemisphere sky! 

A sky full of planets

The night sky is continuing to fill up with planets with all of them visible at some point during the night. Now all we need are some clear skies. Keep watching our weather pages for a guide as to the probability of getting some views. Maybe not the most impressive shot of Jupiter you ever saw. What if I tell you that it was taken with a standard phone camera through our main telescope?

Jupiter is nice and up in the sky with the four moons visible most of the time.

The rise of Matariki

The rise of Matariki signified the start of the New Year for Maori. This year Matariki begins today and if you’re a keen stargazer hoping for a glimpse of the star cluster tonight, then you need to be aware of the simple fact that catches out 99% of people interested in viewing the constellation: It rises early in the morning. At when first viewed is quickly extinguished by sunrise. As the year goes on though, it does get higher in the sky, but New Year is about the RISING, so you need to get up early and look east from around 6:30am In English, the cluster is known as the Pleiades, its ancient Greek name, or the Seven Sisters. The Hawaiian name is Makali'i, or 'eyes of royalty', and in Japan it is Subaru, meaning 'gathered together'.   The reappearance of the seven Matariki stars - which translated have two meanings: mata ariki (eyes of God) and mata riki (little eyes) - signals the beginning of the Māori New Year.   

Alpha Crucis

I love the halo effect on Acrux when photographed. The bright star Alpha Crucis marks the base of the Southern Cross, and at magnitude 0.8, ranks as one of the brightest stars in the southern skies. Also known as Acrux, this star is an excellent multiple star system for binoculars and a small telescope. And it’s one of the few double stars that can be resolved with a telescope during daylight hours. Acrux could not be easier to find. At magnitude 0.8, it’s the brightest star in the constellation Crux and the 12th brightest star in the night sky but 321 light years from Earth
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