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Transit of Mercury observation and Tuia 250 commemorations

Transit of Mercury observation tied in with Tuia 250 commemorations on the Coromandel

Back in 1769 Captain James Cook and his crew on the Endeavour came to Mercury Bay to observe the Transit of Mercury - and 250 years on there will be astronomical activities to mark this occasion again - as part of the national Tuia 250 commemorations on the Coromandel.

Tuia marks the 250th anniversary since the first onshore meeting between Maori and Europeans (Captain Cook and his crew). During these times, Captain Cook also helped his astronomer Charles Green observe the transit of Mercury at Te Whanganui-o-Hei (Mercury Bay), Coromandel Peninsula.

The Transit of Mercury is when the planets Mercury and Venus pass across the Sun, and are visible as small black dots. Timing these ‘transits’ from different locations was the first accurate way to determine the distance between Earth and the Sun.

Otago Museum is planning to celebrate this year's Transit of Mercury to tie in with the Tuia 250 commemoration, by bringing activities to Mercury Bay this November, close to the exact spot from where Green and Cook observed the transit 250 years ago. Activities being planned include:

• A live web broadcast of the transit to be made from a professional class telescope close to the site of Green’s original observations in Mercury Bay. A broadcast will also be made from the University of Canterbury’s Mount John Observatory, which is New Zealand’s pre-eminent astronomical facility.

• Observations and video of the transit will be made from Air New Zealand flights departing Dunedin and Invercargill on the morning of 12 November.

• Through a national selection process, nine students from high schools across New Zealand will be chosen to take part in an advanced astronomy course. They will be trained so they can actively participate in either the re-enactment, the professional observations at Mount John Observatory, or observe the transit from one of the Air NZ flights.

• In the week before the transit a “Te Mahutatanga o Takero, Mercury Rising Roadshow” will visit Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland before arriving in Whitianga the day before the transit, 11 November 2019.

• The roadshow will feature talks from four of New Zealand’s best astronomy communicators and will take place at local Maraes or community buildings (subject to agreement).

• The Otago Museum's "lab in a box" will be visiting Mercury Bay before the transit and will be used as a base to engage local schools.

In addition to this, across New Zealand, Mercury Viewing Parties (MVP) will be organised, where anyone can safely view and experience the event. Expert astronomers and museum professionals will attend these events to share their passion and knowledge of the significant event.

The next transit of Mercury that will be fully visible from New Zealand will be on 10 November 2269.

Tuia commemorations in Mercury Bay

Te Whanganui o Hei/Mercury Bay is one of four landing sites in Aotearoa/New Zealand where Maori and European first met during Lieutenant James Cook’s 1768-1771 voyages of exploration.
Throughout 2019 and 2020, Tuia – Encounters 250, a tier 1 national commemoration, marks the 250th anniversary of this pivotal moment in our nation’s history, and Te Powhiri (The Welcome) is the name given to the Te Whanganui o Hei/Mercury Bay community’s expression of Tuia – Encounters 250.

Formed in 2014, the Mercury 250 Trust, comprised of Ngati Hei kaumatua, community leaders, local historians and an education leader was established to facilitate commemoration ceremonies and encourage and promote the development of a community programme of events and legacy projects reflecting the kaupapa of Tuia 250.

You can read more about the plans for our October onwards commemorations here.

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