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Celebrating 50 years of astronomy

Celebrating 50 years of astronomy

A celebration of half a century of optical astronomy at New Zealand’s premier astronomical research facility is the focus of a new book published by Canterbury University Press (CUP) this month.

Mt John — The First 50 Years: A celebration of half a century of optical astronomy at the University of Canterbury looks at the history of one of the most beautiful astronomical observatories in the world, Mt John University Observatory at Tekapo.

In this richly illustrated book authors Professor John Hearnshaw and Alan Gilmore explore the turbulent history of the observatory which was founded at Lake Tekapo in the Mackenzie Basin and opened in 1965. The work carried out at Mt John, especially in stellar astronomy, is known and respected around the world.

“I hope the book provides an engrossing and enthralling account of the development of an iconic New Zealand scientific institution,” says Hearnshaw, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at the University of Canterbury.

“There were personality battles, funding shortfalls, a student demonstration and even a destructive fire to contend with as the observatory grew in size and importance.”

Astronomical research has thrived at Mt John over the past 50 years. In the past decade it has been complemented by the rise of astronomical tourism. Now Mt John is now both a research observatory and a mecca for stargazing astro-tourists, who come to see the pristine landscape and the amazing dark night skies.

“In the past decade, Mt John and the Mackenzie region have become prominent in astro-tourism. They are both recognised as places to visit to see the natural night sky,” says Gilmore.

“There is an interest in the observatory’s origins and development. It is also a tourist route and receives several hundred visitors a day.”

The book is richly illustrated with almost 200 images, many of them outstanding landscape and nightscape photographs taken by the acclaimed Tekapo photographer Fraser Gunn.

About the authors:
John Hearnshaw was born in Wellington. He studied for a doctorate in astronomy at ANU in Canberra and took up a lectureship in astronomy at the University of Canterbury in 1976. He became a full professor at Canterbury in 1995 and retired with the position of Emeritus Professor of Astronomy in May 2014. For 25 of his 38 years at Canterbury, he was the director of Mt John Observatory.

Alan Gilmore developed an interest in astronomy from an early age, building telescopes while at school and using them for amateur observing work. He completed a degree in physics from Victoria University and worked at Wellington’s Carter Observatory before moving to Mt John at the end of 1980 to take up the position of Mt John superintendent (site manager).

Mt John — The First 50 Years: A celebration of half a century of optical astronomy at the University of Canterbury by John Hearnshaw and Alan Gilmore, published by Canterbury University Press, March 2015, RRP $59.99, ISBN: 978-1-927145-62-3.


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