Stardate South Island 2023 was held at Staveley in Canterbury over 17 – 19 February. This is the annual South Island star party and a great opportunity to catch up with some old friends and find out what’s been happening in the South. We had been busy all week in Invercargill and Cromwell so it worked out well to drive a bit further up the island and attend our third Stardate South Island. On the way we stopped off at Tekapo to check out the Dark Sky Reserve and see what’s new in the shop.
Staveley is not far from Mt Somer and Methven. It’s nestled up against the foot hills of the Southern Alps and far enough from Christchurch that it is well outside any influence of light pollution. The camp ground is fantastic with great facilities. There are both dormitory style rooms and powered spaces for caravans. We had our small tent and the smallest possible camping equipment we could get as it was a flight to the South Island rather than the palatial van to fill up as in previous years.
We have been to two other Stardate South Island excursions to Staveley in 2018 and 2019 so it was awesome to get back this year. Dale, Carol and Euan had once again done a fantastic job of organising the event and kept everything running super smooth and efficiently throughout the weekend. These events aren’t really possible without the dedication of people who jump in and lead it. Dale made sure everyone was looked after and the chores were done and Euan kept us on schedule.
We arrived on Friday afternoon in plenty of time to set up and get ready for the evening’s events. There was a fair bit of cloud around so Euan decided to run the talk programme for the evening. It started with an intro by Euan and Dale then a great presentation on how to make a planisphere by Amadeo. I was up next to do a talk about the work Hari and I do with Spaceward Bound NZ around the country.
Saturday was packed full of talks followed by an awesome evening of viewing the night sky. I won’t go through every talk but the highlights were firstly, Hari’s talk on the Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve which was received really well. There’s a bit of interest in dark sky reserves and the work done in Wairarapa is a good example of what can be achieved, hopefully we’ll see a new dark sky reserve in North Canterbury in the not too distant future!
Euan did a fantastic talk on Tycho Brahe, it was fascinating listening to his life and what he achieved and how that laid the groundwork for Kepler and Newton built on. As Euan had been to the places that Tycho lived it added a lot of authenticity to the talk. John Pickering’s talk on the EV Scope and the citizen science that it enables by that setup was brilliant. There is a huge opportunity to get people involved in citizen science projects through this. John showed us some of the observations he made with exoplanet transits and monitoring the deployment of the JWST, including an academic paper that he was able to contribute to. We also had an excellent talk from Sacha on Astronomy and Folklore which included a section on science fiction.
Of course the highlight of any star party is viewing the night sky and Staveley is amazing for its sky. As we didn’t bring any telescopes we used everyone elses and really enjoyed sharing the views. We did bring a pair of binoculars, which was the first time I really took the time to appreciate just what can be seen through them. I managed to observe 42 different objects, including spotting a few galaxies, 2 comets and many other amazing sites.
Unfortunately the Stardate South Island 2023 was over too soon so on Sunday morning it was time to packup and head back to Queenstown for our flight North. We had an awesome time and it was a real delight catching up with the amazing folks Canterbury Astronomical Society and the other groups from around the South Island, we are looking forward to next year!