News & Events

Meet the Team: Vanessa

September 1, 2016

If you’ve ever been to an education session or school holiday programme at Stardome you may have run into Vanessa. She is a valuable member of our team with a love for science, teaching and all things spacey!

How long have you worked/volunteered at Stardome?

I began as a telescope volunteer back in the summer of 2014 and have been part of the education team since Autumn of the same year.

What is the best part about being here? Vanessa

The best part about being part of the team is when you get an audience that are really into the education or planetarium session.  Having a dynamic discussion with an audience, whether they are pre-schoolers, secondary school students, or adults – it just makes the job the best thing in the world.

 Tell us about your favourite astronomical object

My favourite astronomical object is probably the Boomerang Nebula.  It has an awesome name, and you can say it is the coolest place in the universe because there is nothing discovered so far with temperatures as low as they are in this nebula.

Who is your favourite science fiction character and why?

My favourite science fiction character is the eleventh doctor because of this quote:

“All the elements in your body were forged many, many millions of years ago in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so, so many millions of years, these elements came together to form new stars and new planets. And on and on it went. The elements came together and burst apart, forming shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. Until, eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe.” – Dr Who


Maori Language Week

July 4, 2016

Today marks the start of Māori Language Week, a time for New Zealanders to celebrate Te Reo Māori and to learn how to use more Māori phrases in everyday life.

The Māori had extensive knowledge of the night sky, observing the movements of the constellations, arrivals of comets, phases of the moon and helical rising of stars. They used the stars to direct ocean voyages and as a guide to the seasons, helping them plant certain crops at the right time. The Māori had many stories, turning factual information into entertaining tales. The oral traditions of Māori included genealogies, songs and myths, all containing a wealth of knowledge. In these stories, the stars became people of the sky. They were the offspring of Papa (the Earth) and Rangi (the Sky).

Much of Māori astronomical knowledge has been lost, due to the early missionaries suppressing indigenous religious thought. However, the fascination with the sky and many of the incredible myths remain today. In celebration of Māori Language Week, we have compiled a list of Māori terms related to astronomy. Some of these may vary, due to tribal areas.

Find more Māori Language Week resources here and here.

Mercury Apārangi
Venus Kōpū (Mere)
Mars Matawhero (Tūmatauenga)
Jupiter Pareārau (Hine-i-tīweka)
Saturn Rongo
Earth Papatūānuku
Moon Marama (Hina)
Uranus Whērangi
Neptune Tangaroa
Pluto Whiro (Tama-i-waho)
Milky Way Mangōroa (Roiata)
Orion’s Belt Tautoru
Rocket Tākirirangi
Astronaut Kaipōkai tuarangi
Sun Tamanuiterā
Alien Tipua nō ao kē
Launch Whakarewa
Explore Hōpara, Toro
Science Pūtaiao
Universe Te Ao Tukupū
Galaxy Ikarangi

Juno Arrives at Jupiter

July 1, 2016

This week a spacecraft on a five-year journey will finally arrive at its destination. NASA’s Juno Spacecraft was launched on August 5th, 2011 from Cape Canaveral and will arrive at Jupiter this Monday 4th July at 8:35 PM PDT (Tuesday 5th July, 3:30 PM in New Zealand) to begin studying our Solar System’s largest planet.

Juno is a spinning, solar-powered spacecraft which will be in a highly elliptical polar orbit, allowing it to avoid most of Jupiter’s high-radiation areas. It carries 29 sensors, which feed data to 9 onboard instruments. Eight of these are for science purposes, while JunoCam is aboard to generate images for public and education outreach. JunoCam’s optics were designed to capture high-resolution views of the planet’s poles, allowing the public to come along for the ride to Jupiter.

This mission is one of many firsts, as it will be the first space mission to orbit an outer planet from pole to pole, the first to fly as close as 4,184 km to Jupiter’s cloud tops, and it will be the farthest solar-powered spacecraft from Earth. Jupiter’s orbit is five times farther from the Sun than Earth’s orbit, resulting in the giant planet receiving 25 times less sunlight than Earth. To gather as much solar power as possible, Juno has large surface area solar panels with a solar cell design that uses advanced modern cells. These are 50 percent more efficient and radiation tolerant than the silicon cells that were available for space missions 20 years ago.

Juno carries some special guests on board; the 1.5-inch figurines of Galileo Galilei, the Roman god Jupiter and his wife, Juno. Their inclusion in the spacecraft is part of NASA and the LEGO Group’s joint outreach and educational programme to inspire children to explore science, engineering, technology and mathematics. Galilei made several important discoveries about Jupiter, including the moons that orbit the planet. Juno was said to be able to peer through the clouds, and thus the spacecraft is named after her as it will, for the first time, see below Jupiter’s dense cover of clouds.

The primary motive for the Juno mission is to improve our understanding of the history of our Solar System. Jupiter is made up of mostly hydrogen and helium, meaning it must have developed early, capturing most of the material left from the formation of our Sun. Juno will help reveal and provide insight into the story of the planet’s formation and evolution. The spacecraft will observe the gas giant’s gravity and magnetic fields and atmospheric dynamics and composition. Not only will this improve our knowledge of Jupiter itself, but it will also provide the knowledge to help us understand the origins of planetary systems around other stars.

After the study is complete, Juno will be instructed to plunge into Jupiter’s atmosphere, where it will burn up like a meteor.

You can follow Juno’s journey of social media here and learn more about the JunoCam Citizen Science Programme here.

Image: NASA


Asteroid Day

June 27, 2016

Thursday 30th of June marks Asteroid Day, a relatively new annual global awareness movement that encourages people to come together to learn about asteroids and the potential impact effect on our home planet.

Asteroids are minor planets, and there are millions of them scattered throughout the Solar System. Many are thought to be the shattered remnants of planetesimals, bodies within the young Sun’s solar nebula that didn’t grow large enough to become planets. The asteroid belt, situated between Mars and Jupiter, contains the majority of known asteroids with a significant number, called Jupiter Trojans, being co-orbital with Jupiter. However, there are also ‘near-Earth asteroids’ (NEA), and ‘Earth-crossers’, asteroids that cross Earth’s orbital path. At the time of writing, there are 14,464 recorded NEA, with approximately 1000 of these over one kilometre in diameter.

Asteroid Day aims to bring awareness to how we can better understand asteroids and establish ways to protect our planet, communities and future generations. The day is held on the anniversary of the 1908 Siberian Tunguska event, the largest asteroid impact on Earth in recent history.

A key goal of the day is to introduce the 100x Declaration. The declaration calls for action, enlisting the help of scientists and technologists to have a rapid, hundred-fold acceleration of the discovery and tracking of near-Earth asteroids to 100,000 per year within the next ten years. It is hoped that by better understanding which asteroids are close to our planet, we can heighten awareness and efforts to prevent any possible impacts. Over 100 astronauts, scientists, technologists, and artists have signed the Declaration. However, the signing is not restricted to specialists, and anyone who is interested is encouraged to sign it.

You can find more information about the day here – including basic asteroid facts, detection methods and a video gallery.

Sign the declaration here.


Meet the team: Danut

June 20, 2016

You may have spotted some of Danut’s images on our Facebook or Instagram. He loves taking pictures of the Sun and frequently helps out at our open days.

How long have you worked/volunteered at Stardome?

I have been a Stardome volunteer since October 2006, doing the same here as I did in my native country Romania for the ‘Amiral Vasile Urseanu’ Observatory in Bucharest.

What is the best part about being here?

I enjoy sharing my astronomical knowledge with the public visitors and showing them that astronomy doesn’t only mean “math and physics” but it also means simply enjoying starry nights with the naked eyes, binoculars or a telescope! I love promoting astronomy and astronomers from around the world and encourage people to become Stardome volunteers and Auckland Astronomical Society members. I encourage people to take their own night sky images also! Using the Zeiss telescope and the Lunt 152 Solar Scope I enjoy taking astrophotography images here and sharing these on various Facebook pages such as Aotearoa Astrophotography, NZ Astronomers and RASNZ Education Group. I also enjoy being a member of the Zeiss Research Team, where we are beginning projects regarding variable stars, comets, exo-planets and more!

Tell us about your favourite astronomical object

I think that my favourite is the Great Orion Nebula! But also Omega Centauri, 47 Tucane and the Jewel Box (three of the most famous southern sky clusters), Tarantula Nebula and Andromeda Galaxy. Overall, I like all the celestial objects. By looking to the sky, we are looking back in time!

Who is your favourite science fiction character and why?

Susan Calvin from ‘I Robot’ by Issac Asimov. I also have to mention my favourite science fiction book, which is ‘The Incredible Adventure’ but Ioa Manzatu. It was from this book that I first learnt about stars and galaxies.


Mars Moves into Opposition

April 27, 2016

In May, look up at the night sky and wave “hello” to Mars. The “Red Planet” will be at opposition on 22 May, bringing it to within 75.3 million km of Earth, the closest it has been since 2005.

When a planet is at opposition, the Earth is directly between it and the Sun with the planet and the Sun on opposite sides of the Earth. Earth orbits the Sun about 25% faster than Mars so every 26 months, Earth will overtake Mars. In May, Earth with catch up with, and overtake, Mars putting them on the same side of the Sun. This brings them closer together, so we see Mars not only much brighter but also larger when viewed through a telescope. The Earth passes Mars quite quickly, so the time for best telescope viewing is just a few weeks before and after the opposition.

Not all oppositions of Mars are equal because while the orbit of Earth is close to a circle, that of Mars is more elliptical. Mars reaches opposition roughly every 26 months, so while it’s not a rare occurrence, this is the closest Mars has been to Earth since 2005 when it was 69.6 million km from Earth. The red planet doesn’t get as close this time, but it will still be the best view of Mars we have had for ten years. To put this distance in some perspective, our Moon is on average 384,400 km away, and on average Mars is about 225 million km from the Sun.

The best views we get today are from the numerous spacecraft currently orbiting the planet. Still, there is something special about seeing Mars through a telescope and marvel how much astronomers of the past were able to learn – even if they got some of it wrong. There were no canals, the dark markings were not vegetation, and there are no advanced beings living there.

With a good telescope, you’ll expect to see the red colour of the planet mottled with dark and the white south polar cap. During the 2016 opposition of Mars, it will be late winter in the planet’s southern hemisphere.

But you don’t have to have a telescope because your naked eye will notice that Mars is much brighter than normal (rivalling Jupiter) and it will move noticeably against the background stars from night to night.

Make the most of this opposition opportunity and find Mars in the night sky. Mars will be rising as the Sun sets (because they are opposite in the sky) and Mars will be high in the sky around midnight for the best telescopic viewing. Wait a few hours after dark and look east. You will see Mars rising in the constellation Scorpius looking like a bright red/orange star.

The date of opposition is May 22nd, but the actual closest approach occurs on May 31st.

Pale Blue Dot Day

April 24, 2016

Each year, on April 22 we celebrate Earth Day, a special day to honour the best planet in the entire universe! It’s also a day to appreciate our small and fragile oasis in space. From over 2,000 planets discovered orbiting other stars, only about 30 have the potential to be habitable. Earth is still the only known harbours life.

The phrase “Pale Blue Dot” came from the 1990 image of Earth from Voyager 1, taken when it reached the edge of our Sun’s planetary system. Looking back from the gas giant planets, Earth appears to be nothing more than a pale blue dot in the darkness. Previously, Earth had been referred to as the “Blue Marble,” a phrase coined by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972 when they took one of the most widely distributed images ever. This photo showed the astronauts view of Earth, appearing no larger than a glass marble. What might our future view of Earth look like? Will we one day travel so far that our Sun will be a pale yellow dot?

You may have seen this before but we think there is no better summary of how important Earth is than Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot – watch here.

Pale blue dot
Image credit: NASA

You can find out more about the Earth Day Network and make a donation towards tree planting at

Meet the team: Kevin

April 18, 2016

You may have met Kevin when looking through the courtyard telescopes after a Night Sky show, or seen him behind the BBQ at a Music and Laser Light show

How long have you worked at Stardome?
I’ve been working for Stardome for more than a decade now.

What’s the best part about working here?
The people. The crowds who watch the shows at night, then come out into the backyard and look through the telescopes and for the very first time see those starry objects in the night sky. Seeing the expression on their faces is one of the best moments. Also, the volunteer team who provide an invaluable, integral, experience of the night sky using telescopes.

Tell us your favourite astronomical object
There are various favourites but one that comes to mind is the south celestial pole and using various other wayfinding stellar objects to find south. Knowing how to find south is extremely useful just in case your smartphone runs out of batteries!

Who is your favourite science fiction character and why?
It has to be Mr Foreman, also known as The Doctor. He/She’s brilliant, travels alone at most times, and learns from his or her companions experiences during The Doctor’s Timestream.


From Earth to Beyond – Yuri’s Journey

April 5, 2016

This year marks the 55th anniversary since the Yuri Gagarin became the first human to make it through our little blue planet’s atmosphere and out into Space.

star observatory, planetarium show

Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

For many years, the United States and the Soviet Union competed to be the first nation to push the boundaries of human exploration and venture into Space. The Russian team eagerly developed the Vostok spacecraft to beat the USA into space by 1961 and sent a prototype, the Vostok 3KA-2 up, carrying a life-sized dummy named Ivan Ivanovich and an unsuspecting dog called Zvezdochk. The prototype was a success finally leading to the Vostok vessel being ready to carry a human being.

Senior Lieutenant Yuri Alexyevich Gagarin was born on March 9, 1934 in the village of Klushino. From a young age, he was interested in flying, making his first solo flight in 1955. Several years later, he became one of more than 200 Russian Air Force fighter pilots selected as cosmonaut candidates. In 1960 he was finally chosen for the Soviet Space Programme and the elite training group Sochi. This group underwent vigorous physical and psychological training before Yuri was selected as the first launch cosmonaut choice. His short stature of only 1.57 metres may have been an advantage; he was the ideal size for the small Vostok cockpit.

On April 12, 1961 at 9:07am Moscow time, the Vostok 1 spacecraft launched, with Gagarin aboard. At the time it wasn’t understood how weightlessness would affect a human so the small capsule had very few onboard controls, most of the tasks were completed remotely from the ground. Gagarin orbited Earth once, reaching a maximum height of 327 kilometres during the 108-minute trip. In his post-flight report, he recalled his experience “if you were hanging in a horizontal position in straps. You feel as if you are suspended.”

While over Africa, the engines fired to bring him back to Earth. When re-entering the atmosphere, Gagarin experienced forces up to eight times the pull of gravity, yet remained conscious. There were no engines on the Vostok 1 to slow its re-entry so at about seven kilometres up, Gagarin ejected and parachuted to Earth.

He returned as an international hero and became a national treasure, awarded with many medals and titles, including the nation’s highest honour “Hero of the Soviet Union”. Yuri easily gained attention from the public, not only with his momentous achievement but with his winning smile. Russia was hesitant on risking such a popular public figure by allowing him back into Space, so Gagarin made test flights for the Air Force instead.

While test-piloting a MiG-15, on March 27 168, Gagarin was tragically killed in a crash near the town of Kirzach. The cause of the crash is uncertain and has been subject to much speculation. He left behind his wife, Valentina Ivanova Goryacheva and two daughters, as well as legendary status as the first man in space.

Since 2001, the date of his space flight has been commemorated annually as ‘Yuri’s Night’, an international celebration of his achievement and all milestones in space exploration. The Apollo 11 crew, when first landing on the moon in 1969, honoured Yuri by leaving a memorial satchel containing medal commemorating Gagarin.

Although he lived a short life, Gagarin’s unprecedented journey set a new pace in the Space race. His courage, expertise and commitment to space exploration will continue to be recognised as a pivotal well recognised and will continue to be for generations to come.

Want to learn more about the Space race and Yuri Gagarin? Come along to our Yuri’s Night celebration on April 12th. Find out more and book tickets here.



What’s happening with the Zeiss Telescope?

March 2, 2016

What’s happening with the Zeiss Telescope?

You may have noticed that the Edith Winstone Blackwell Zeiss telescope is out of operation for a few weeks. Over the weekend, the mirrors were carefully removed and sent away to be resurfaced to restore them to optimal reflectiveness. The very delicate reflective coating is aluminium deposited as a vapour in a vacuum chamber. It is only a few atoms thick, but when fresh reflects about 92% of incident light.

The telescope tube weighs about 500kg; thankfully, so does the counterweight. The total weight of the telescope and mounting from the top of the concrete pier is 2,300kg. The mount stands on a massive concrete pier beneath the floor that has three legs that go a further 6m down to solid rock (volcanic lava). While the mirrors are removed, the counterweight is propped up, a critical measure to ensure it doesn’t cause extensive damage! The mirrors are carefully removed, packaged up and sent away to Wellington for the resurfacing process.

The Edith Winstone Blackwell 0.5m Zeiss Telescope is our most powerful telescope available for public viewing. It is in a dome which opens up to the night sky. The main eyepiece used in the Zeiss gives a magnification of about 208 times. Manufactured by Carl Zeiss of Jena, East Germany, the Edith Winstone Blackwell Zeiss Telescope was installed at the Auckland Observatory in early 1967, and is one of only 20 such telescopes built.

Telescope Type: Cassegrain
Diameter of Primary Mirror: 0.5m
Effective Focal Length: 6.65m (focal ratio F13.3)

The Zeiss will be back in business in a few weeks. It will be back in business from March 17,  so if you’re coming along to a Night Sky show on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, book yourself in for the Zeiss experience. Led by one of our fantastic volunteers, you’ll get a special tour of the visible astronomical wonders- book a spot here.