Welcome to the WAS website

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

New Monthly Meeting Day

It’s official: our monthly public astronomy talks which you all love will now be held on the first Tuesday of every month from 7.30pm.

We are now back at Space Place, but meetings will still be on Tuesdays not Wednesday.

Please keep an eye on the newsletter (and updates) for reminders about date and venue changes.

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)

July 2023 Monthly Meeting

In July there is no Monthly meeting, this is replaced by the Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lecture. Normal monthly meetings resume in August with the normal schedule on Tue 01 Aug.

Remember, non-members are always welcome to attend.

The Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lecture 2023

Dark Sky Observing – Astrophotography in July

WAS Astrophotography Group / Dark Sky Observing will be on Saturday 8th July. In the event of bad weather then Saturday 15th July. This will be at Star Field – John Whitby’s dark sky site in the southern Wairarapa from 6.00 pm onwards (now that daylight saving has finished).

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.

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.)

Note: this is a member only event.

Gifford Observatory Working Bee

There will be working bee at the Gifford Observatory on Sunday 25th June from 11am to 4 pm. The observatory is located near the Basin Reserve in central Wellington. The plan is for sandblasting and painting the dome mounting rings. Put this date in your diaries. See the section on the observatory refurbishment below.

If you can help, then please email Andrew at vice-president@was.org.nz. More details as to time etc. will be posted here closer to the date.

Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lecture

This year’s Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lecturer has been announced. Details of this years lecture have been posted on the RASNZ website. The lecturer is Professor Ryan Ridden, an astrophysicist at the University of Canterbury. He studies some of the largest explosions in the Universe, caused by exploding stars, colliding stars, and hungry black holes. To study these extreme objects, he uses space telescopes such as TESS and the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as some of the largest telescopes on Earth.

The Wellington Astronomical Society will host Professor Ridden in Wellington during his tour of the country in July. The Wellington lecture time and place details will be posted here and on our Facebook page closer to the time.

Gifford Observatory Refurbishment

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 April 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.

Wairarapa is now a Dark Sky Reserve

Wairarapa has received official Dark Sky Reserve status. This means the night sky there is among the best places in the world to view the never-ending star filled skies above. Just an hour’s drive from Wellington, Wairarapa is arguably the most accessible dark sky destination in the world.

It’s also the location of the new WAS observatory. See this video about the new dark sky reserve which features the new WAS observatory and Matt Balkham.

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.

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