I’m sure many people have often asked the above question, but how many have had the opportunity to answer it? We got to find the answer during the recent weekend trip to the South Island of New Zealand to the great annual Stardate South Island. I love the South Island, it’s where I grew up, and it always feels like home heading back to that awesome piece of New Zealand. Not only is it one of the most beautiful places in the world, it has stunning skies and the site of Stardate SI was near the fabulous Canterbury town of Methven, nestled up against the foothills of the Southern Alps near to Mount Hutt. I’ve been to a few starparties and they are truely worth the effort of squashing piles of astronomical equipment into a ridiculously small car. The below photo is the car all packed up ready to go home after the Stardate.
We decided to take a good range of telescopes to the event so packed the 400mm (16 inch) Meade Lightbridge Dobsonian, the 200mm (8 inch) Orion XT8 and our Coronado PST solar telescope. Added to that was a large tent, 3 people, large bags, sleeping bags, blowup mattresses, assorted cases for eyepieces, a camera, 2 tripods and telescope mount – not to mention 3 pillows, some books, a pump (for the mattresses) and some snacks and water for the very long drive. Unpacked it all looked like this:
The Stardate itself was fantastic. There were lots of presentations from some very interesting people who had done some very remarkable things in astronomy. It was an amazing opportunity to be around some of New Zealand’s astronomical royalty. Of course, with these sorts of events it doesn’t take long for people to start talking about their equipment and there were some great telescopes assembled in the field, including an enormous 18” dobsonian and a stunning C11 that gave some brilliant views of the night sky. The first night clouded over just after midnight but still gave a couple of hours a fantastic viewing and a great opportunity to compare telescopes.
The second night was even better with crystal clear views. I remember during the evening that someone measured how dark it was and the result was about as dark and clear as it can possibly be. We had some amazing views with the 400mm Lightbridge and they were hugely improved when on of our Stardate colleagues showed how a monster 21mm Ethos eyepiece performed. All I can say from the view is that “I WANT A 21MM ETHOS” – I’d better start saving because they don’t come cheap. The great thing about this get together was how welcoming the group made us feel – even us two North Islanders. Everyone was so friendly and happy to talk about their experiences and share their knowledge.
There’ll be a part two to this article covering some of the amazing things that we saw in the amazing South Island skies. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like going to a camping ground with a bunch of other astronomers, it is awesome and well worth experiencing. A big thank you to Euan and the team at Canterbury Astronomical Society for putting the Stardate together, you did a brilliant job and it was a huge success and we’ll see you there next year (maybe we’ll have a 21mm Ethos by then).