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“Star Field” 

November 21, 2018 November 2018 No Comments

A new complex of telescope domes and high-quality astronomy facilities is quietly rising on a Ruakokpatuna paddock east of Martinborough _ below some of the darkest skies in Martinborough’s proposed Dark Sky Reserve. The owner of this “Star Field,” local astronomer John Whitby, will soon have at least three observatory buildings on the site, including two with roll-off roofs for night sky observation.

Whitby said the plan is to provide the public with access to the region’s world-class skies with facilities that allow all visitors to experience high-quality viewing, video astronomy and astrophotography. Astronomy guides will help provide public outreach and education.  

A series of high-end telescopes will be installed in the buildings, while a video imaging rig will broadcast live night-sky images world-wide. One 3-metre dome observatory will house high-quality astrophotography equipment. A separate control room will house the computing equipment for the two imaging observatories.

The Wellington Astronomical Society is negotiating with Whitby to house a remote observatory on the site. This 5-metre dome observatory will house a scientific grade 24-inch telescope, remotely controlled from Wellington for the Society’s use.

“The same topography and dry climate that has made Martinborough famous for wines has also brought regular clear skies and steady seeing,” he told the “Martinborough Star. “Star Field’s unique surrounding topography produces exceptional seeing and transparency along with very clear night skies,” he added.

Whitby, who spent five years looking for such a site, says he plans to hold regular “star party events” and astrophotography workshops at the facility, along with world-wide broadcasting of deep sky images, live and in colour.

The main purpose of the Ruakokpatuna complex is “to share a dark sky site with amateur astronomers and budding enthusiasts of astronomy,” he said.

Tourism would generate revenue that will assist on-going development at the site,  where a cafeteria, astrophotograhy gallery and ablution block will also be built. 

Whitby said the Ruakokpatuna site has world-class dark skies and is located away from the light pollution of Martinborough town _ but just 10 minutes away. Initial concrete work for three observatories has already been laid, and the first roll-off roof observatory is partly built. It will house one 18-inch and two 12-inch GOTO Dobsonian telescopes.

 “John is making a huge commitment to Martinborough with the amount of investment, time and energy he is personally putting into developing this world class facility within the proposed Dark Sky Reserve. The community, schools and tourists will all have access to facilities most places in the world could only dream of,” he said.

  “It is vital we put in place some sensible rules on responsible lighting to protect the clear night sky views we all enjoy. We can see from satellite images that the spread of light pollution is accelerating, even in Martinborough,” Mauger said.

A Responsible Lighting guide is available in the local library and we encourage everyone to grab a copy of it, he said. “We’re working with the council to establish a responsible lighting policy, which is required for our application to become an internationally recognised Dark Sky Reserve.” he added.

Caption: Work has begun on the bases for the new observatories

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