News & Events

What makes a Moon super?

November 5, 2016

On the 15th of November you may notice that the Moon seems bigger and brighter than usual. This phenomenon is labelled a ‘Supermoon’ and the next one will be the largest Supermoon since 1948.

A Supermoon is the coincidence of a full Moon occurring at the Moon’s closest approach to Earth. The Moon’s orbit around Earth is an ellipse, not a circle, so the Moon’s distance from Earth can vary from a distant apogee of 406,000km to a closer perigee of 357,000km. These distances also vary because the orbit of the Moon is affected to some degree by the Sun’s gravity.

A so-called “Supermoon” occurs when the full Moon phase happens to coincide closely to the time when the Moon is also at the perigee point – and therefore closest to Earth. The Moon passes through apogee and perigee each lunar cycle. The phases of the Moon and the orbit aren’t directly linked, so occasionally a full Moon will coincide with perigee, resulting in a Supermoon.

On 15th November, the date of the next full Moon, you will have the chance to see the closest, largest and brightest full Moon since 1948. From this close distance the full Moon will appear about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than an apogee full Moon. There won’t be a closer full Moon until 2024.

The Moon will be actually be closest to Earth (356,509km) very early on November 15 at 12.23am. The exact time of the full Moon phase occurs a little later at 2.52am, at which time the Moon will appear high in the sky and noticeably brighter. The Moon will also be close to the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus while passing through the Hyades star cluster.

Being closer means the Moon appears to be bigger and brighter. However, due to the way our brains process the view the apparent size of the Moon is best appreciated as it is rising and close to the horizon. Your brain needs some visual clues like trees or buildings before the size difference is properly seen. So, if the sky is clear of clouds, find a good view of the eastern horizon and watch the Supermoon rise at around 8.45pm.

History of Spacecraft

November 1, 2016

The refurbishment of the Space Gallery and Exhibits area is almost complete, and installation of one of the new displays is done!

In the History of Spacecraft display, great historic moments are recreated with toy bricks. The display highlights technological advancements and human bravery with scenes of Yuri’s courageous orbit, the epic Moon landings and the astronauts on the International Space Station.

Accompanied by bright graphics and interesting information, the display also has interactive elements. To explore space, both relatively close and incomprehensibly far, scientists have pushed technology to its limits. It’s the lessons and discoveries from these early spacecraft that space agencies are exploring further than ever before.

The new displays launch early November. Keep an eye out for our competition to win a Skywatcher Nova 114mm EQ telescope!


Colonel Searfoss visits Stardome

October 22, 2016

Last night (Friday 21 October) Stardome customers and space fans were treated to a talk from former NASA astronaut Colonel Rick Searfoss. He visited Stardome to share his experiences as a NASA astronaut and exciting space travel experiences!

Rick Searfoss is a retired United States Air Force colonel, NASA astronaut and test pilot. Selected by NASA in 1990 and completing training in 1991, Searfoss went on to serve as STS-58 pilot on the life science research mission onboard the Space Shuttle Columbia which launched in 1993, pilot the 1996 STS-76 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on a nine-day mission and command a seven-person crew on the STS-90 Neurolab mission also launched in 1996.

The missions Searfoss completed provided NASA with vital information about the effects of space travel and microgravity. The STS-90 Neurolab mission targeted one of the most complex and least understood parts of the human body – the nervous system. The results from these missions have gone on to assist with future space missions.img_5505

Colonel Searfoss has spent over 39 days in space and orbited Earth 636 times as part of his career with NASA. He is now a commercial test astronaut for Xcor, a private spaceflight company and rocket engine development company.

Both the 7pm and 8pm audiences enjoyed hearing about his experiences and had great questions on space travel, how to become an astronaut and the future of space exploration.

Big thank you to Armageddon Expo for making this happen!

What’s Happening at Stardome?

October 3, 2016

The Space Gallery & Exhibits area at Stardome is about to transform with the installation of two new interactive displays and a new layout for the front part of the gallery.

Construction begins on Monday, 10 October in the front part of Stardome’s foyer as the new elements are installed. If you visit Stardome during the construction period, there will be fewer displays to look at and the shop will not be open but the 360-degree planetarium experience will not be affected. There will be fewer car parks available during construction, but parking is available in One Tree Hill Domain (be aware the playground car park is locked at 7pm) or on Haydn Ave.

For the new displays and layout, Stardome worked with tourism and recreation specialists Visitor Solutions and experience designers Locales to develop engaging, interactive displays that showcase space science.

The displays look back to the future, at historic and forthcoming moments in space exploration. The History of Spacecraft display looks back at important events in space exploration, and the Space Tracker display looks forward at some of the current and future space missions.

Stardome is a not-for-profit organisation that has been sharing a love of space since 1967. A small entry charge to the gallery and exhibits of $2 per adult and $1 per child will be introduced to ensure we can continue to offer an astronomical experience to Auckland and to fund additional interactive displays.

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.