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31st December
written by Hazel

I’m extremely excited about this post!

One of my Christmas gifts from Justin was a late night observatory trip to the world’s southernmost research observatory!  You can read about the tour here, or about the observatory here or here.  With all of our recent rain we were a bit worried that we wouldn’t be able to see much on the tour.  The tour company even gave us a $15 discount because there were a few clouds in the sky.  It turned out to be an awesome experience though.

We set out on the tour at 11:45 pm and didn’t get back until almost 2 am.  We were given huge red parkas to keep warm and then they took us up to the observatory on a big bus and then used really bright laser pointers to show us some of the constellations and explain some of the things we could see.  Jupiter was incredibly bright.  I thought it was interesting that the only constellation I could pick out from home, Orion, is upside down here in the southern hemisphere!

After the introduction we split up and could look through telescopes that they lined up to interesting things or try our hand at night photography.  Of course I went right to the photography!  It turned out that I was the only one in the group who lasted more than a couple of minutes taking photos so I got an explaining person to myself helping me out and telling me what I could see!  I even got to mount my camera on the tracking boom that moves at the same speed as the earth rotates so that the stars don’t appear smeared in the photos.  Before I used the boom I was getting streaky stars with a one minute exposure – the earth moves fast!

Upside-down Orion!

This was one of the pictures using the tracking boom. You can see the bright red supergiant Betelgeuse (his shoulder, but at the bottom left in this photo) and the blue supergiant Rigel (top right) and the pinkish Orion Nebula (in his sword).  Click on the photo to zoom in to see better!

Southern Cross

There’s a lot you can see in this photo!  The Southern Cross is in the middle at the bottom – pretty distinctive!  I had so much fun taking these photos and absolutely loved the whole experience!

Mt. John Observatory

We went back up the next day and did a circuit hike around the observatory so we could get a look at it in the daytime.  The views were spectacular, but notice that the clouds were already rolling back in.

We’re just outside Queenstown for new year’s eve tonight.  Hope everyone at home has a safe and happy New Year!!!


  1. Judie DeWitt

    Happy New Year!!!
    The observatory trip was fantastic!!! i cant believe how beautiful the star photos are!! great job!
    how do they celebrate the new year in New Zealand??
    Miss you

  2. 01/01/2011

    Happy New Year!
    What a wonderful Christmas present! Your photos are impressive and it’s easy to imagine your excitement and enthusiasm in having this opportunity to take pictures. Could you see any other recognizable constellations? How about The Plough or Cassiopeia (presumably this is an M in Southern Hemisphere instead of W), seven sisters? Do shooting stars go backwards………!?
    2011 will such an action packed amazing year for you!

  3. Nigel Ball

    HNY. Gotta love the ‘cross.

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