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Welcome to the WAS website

Wellington Astronomical Society is an incorporated society and registered charity for promoting astronomy in and around the Wellington region.

Upcoming Events

Our latest events are always in the Events section of our Facebook Page. (It’s public, so you don’t need to be a Facebook user to see it)

May Monthly Meeting

When: Wednesday 8th May 6:00 pm
Where: The Royal Society, 11 Turnbull St, Thorndon, Wellington or via Zoom
Meeting ID 868 3785 7650
Passcode: 155311
NOTE: the change of day, time and venue from the usual.

Subject: Confessions of an aurora addict
Presenter: Ian Griffin


Since his arrival in Dunedin in 2013, Dr Ian Griffin has been obsessed with the aurora australis. On clear nights, he can often be found in the back bays of the Otago Peninsula in pursuit of the aurora’s elusive glow. Ian’s passion for the southern lights has led him to embark on many adventures, including chartering Air New Zealand airliners to fly thousands of kilometres south of Aotearoa deep into the southern auroral zone. Despite being cautioned for speeding during the best auroral display of the past ten years, Ian’s dedication to this fascinating natural phenomenon remains unwavering. Through his stories and pictures, Ian will share the highs and lows of his secret life as an aurora addict.

Ian Griffin earned his PhD in Astronomy from University College London in 1991. He has spent more than three decades leading cultural institutions in various locations such as Northern Ireland, Florida, Auckland, Maryland, Manchester, and Oxford. In 2013, he was appointed as the eighth Director of Otago Museum, where he has served for more than ten years. During his tenure, he has overseen the construction of the world’s southernmost planetarium in 2015 and the design and development of the Tūhura Science Centre. In recognition of his work, he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize in 2015 and made a Companion of The Royal Society Te Apārangi in 2019.

Note that you don’t need to be a WAS member to attend our meetings. All are welcome, so come along and see what we are about.

Dark sky observing

WAS Astrophotography Group / Dark Sky Observing

When: Saturday 4th and 11th May from 8:00pm onwards. Weather permitting.
Where: Star Field, John Whitby’s dark sky site in the southern Wairarapa

Star Party

The new moon is on the 7th of May. The Milky Way and many of its wonders will be high in the sky as well as its satellite galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. Jupiter will be low in the northwestern sky.

‘Star Field is at the heart of the newly accredited Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve, the second dark sky reserve in Aotearoa NZ. (The first is the Aoraki/Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in the South Island.)

If you’ve never seen the night sky from a dark-sky site before, this will be unforgettable. Antony will give you a tour of the sky with his laser pointer before we get on the telescopes. There is also a lot of expertise available for anyone wanting to photograph the night sky.

Star field sign

How to register: Please email Antony at events@was.org.nz if you are planning to go. (If you have never been to Star Field before, you will need to contact Antony to get the directions for finding it.)

What to bring:
Warm clothes, as it gets pretty cold at night, beanie, gloves etc.
Snacks if you want.
Warm drinks are provided.
A warm room is available if you need warming up.
A flush toilet is available on-site.

For astrophotography, bring:
A DSLR or mirrorless camera,
A wide angle lens (preferably),
A tripod to fix the camera to.

Be careful with car headlights when you arrive. With people taking photos, please keep lights to a minimum (use red lights if you can), especially car headlights (use parking lights).

For further details or cancellations contact Antony (021 253 4979). This event will be updated on the WAS Facebook page by the afternoon of the day of the event if the weather forecast is not looking good.

For those just interested in Deep Sky observing, telescopes will be provided unless you want to bring your own.

NOTE: This is a WAS members-only evening.

Help us to make WAS better!

We’d like your help to do some re-design to WAS and what we offer to our members. Here’s your chance to tell us what you’d like to do and be involved in (such as meeting up for social events, or offering your telescope advice to beginners).

We have had some responses (thanks!) but we need more data to make sound decisions. Please fill out our survey, if you haven’t already:


It’s quick – just 5 minutes to complete.

Thanks so much!

RASNZ Conference 2024

The next Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) Conference is getting closer. It will be held from 24-26 May at Richmond, Nelson, hosted by Nelson Astronomical Society. Early-bird registrations have opened and will close on 1 May.  If you’d like to present a paper, that would be awesome as well. 

All the details of how to register and how to offer a paper are here.

Cretney Observatory News

Above: NGC 3324, an open cluster in Carina, NW of the Carina nebula (Matt Balkham)
The image above was created from 7 hours of HaOiiiRGB data from the C14 taken on Thursday 21 March. Matt writes: ‘There is a great James Webb version of this target online. It is interesting to see their field of view compared to ours. An interesting little white/blue reflection nebula I haven’t noticed before centre bottom.’ Full details here.

In other news, in Italy our primary mirror is grinding ever closer to being repaired … End of April. 

Get involved with WAS

Is there anything more awe inspiring than looking through a telescope to see the wonders of Matariki, or showing a child the rings of Saturn?

It’s been a bit hard over the last few years, especially if you don’t have access to a telescope of your own.

Now that the Covid emergency is over, we want to get a bit more astronomy into the Wellington Astronomical Society. But we need your help!

Running outreach events, holding viewing sessions, teaching telescope skills, running observatories (and mowing their lawns), arranging astrophotography nights, writing funding applications, managing social media accounts, finding guest speakers, making the tech work at our meetings… it all takes time! So this year your Council has decided we want to have more fun and spend more time with our members.

Very shortly we will send out a survey form to members, asking how you would like to be involved in your society and what you are most interested in doing.

After we have your response, a Council member will be in touch. There are three things we can guarantee:
• We won’t ask for more time than you can give
• You don’t have to know about astronomy to get involved
• It will be loads of fun!

Gifford Observatory Refurbishment and News

A few days ago, we had a break-in at the Gifford Observatory. Some schoolboys stole various cameras (by ripping the cables out), damaged the guttering and the fence, knocked a hole in the door, and tried to burn the place down. Fortunately their actions were caught on our CCTV cameras, and they have been referred, via Wellington College, to the Police. A substantial insurance claim is in progress. This is a set-back, but the working bee at the Gifford will be going ahead on Sunday 7 April. Contact Andrew Fuller if you’d like to lend a hand 

The Gifford Observatory was originally established in 1911 on the slopes of Mt Victoria, where Wellington East Girls’ College is located now. It was moved to its present location, above Wellington College, in 1924. It was named in honour of its original founder and benefactor, A.C. Gifford, also known as Uncle Charlie.

The Observatory hosted a Zeiss 130 mm refractor and was operated by Wellington College students until the late 1970s, by which time adult support for its continued operation had faded out. The dome eventually rotted and collapsed, leaving only the shell of the building.

In 1999, the Gifford Observatory Trust was formed. Its aim was to ‘restore, maintain and operate the original Gifford Observatory to establish a useable astronomical observatory for the recreational use of young astronomers in the Wellington region’.

The Trust refurbished the building with a new 4.5-metre dome and reinstalled the 130 mm refractor. The Gifford was reopened on 25 March 2002 by one of its former student users (and New Zealand’s most distinguished rocket scientist), Dr William Pickering ONZ, KBE. (see below).

In 2022, the Trust was dissolved, but not before it had transferred the ownership (and upkeep) of the Observatory to the Wellington Astronomical Society. We are now renovating the observatory with the aim of making it fully automated.

Interested in helping Andrew with the refurb of the Gifford? Have a chat with him at the monthly meeting or contact him at adfuller@gmail.com.

William Hayward (Bill) Pickering (1910–2004) was a frequent user of the Gifford Observatory during his school days at Wellington College. He finished his BSc at Caltech and completed his PhD in Physics there in 1936. A few years later, in 1944, he went to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. On 31 January 1958, his group at JPL launched Explorer I on a Jupiter-C rocket from Cape Canaveral, less than four months after the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik. It’s a tale of innovation on the surface, but it’s worth remembering that rockets for space could not have been developed so fast without the rocketry programme of the Second World War – as the Jupiter-C’s history shows. It was designed, eerily, by Wernher von Braun, who worked on the V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany’s weapons programme during the war. Von Braun was spirited off to the US afterwards, as part of the innocuous-sounding Operation Paperclip. Similarly, the R-7 rocket that launched Sputnik 1 was originally developed as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, i.e. an offensive weapon capable of travelling thousands of miles.

If you have any suggestions for things you would like to see on our website, then please email the webmaster or fill out the “Contact Us” form.

Our Facebook page is at this link.

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