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Skyline News Detail

Southern Nights

Posted on Monday, 7 September 2015

Southern Nights

New Zealand is well-known for its unspoiled scenery, its rugged landscape and incredible views.   However, the unique views from New Zealand stretches even further than our modest eyes can see, even beyond the boundaries of our galaxy.  Our Southern Skies have a selection of awe-inspiring objects, all resting overhead in our distinctively dark sky.  In particular, New Zealand’s South Island is named one of the best spots in the world for stargazing.

Here in New Zealand’s South Island, we see unique celestial objects that are only visible south of the equator.  The further south we go the more unique the viewing.  Within Queenstown’s dark skies we can see the three brightest starts of the night sky; Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri.  Stargazing in Queenstown at this time of the year we are humbled by the wondrous Canopus and Alpha Centauri.

Canopus belongs to the Carina constellation which is home to the notorious star system Eta Carinae.  This is expected to supernova soon and experts say that when it does explode it would be so bright we’d even see it during the day and it would shine brighter than a full moon by night!  That would certainly be worth a trip south to witness.  The last supernova that we saw from Earth was in the year 1604.

Alpha Centauri is circumpolar which means it is only visible from the Southern Hemisphere.  It is our nearest star neighbour and more accurately it is a binary pair sitting a mere 4.3 light years from the Sun.  It would take our current spacecrafts around 50,000 years to reach it.  It makes up one of the pointer stars which help us to locate the famous Southern Cross (Crux).

Currently the Sun is low in Queenstown’s daytime sky so any planets opposite the Sun will be nearly overhead during the night, providing some of the best planet viewing opportunities of the year. Saturn is in this favoured position just now as it sits within the boundary of Libra.  For most of us, Saturn is the fairest planet of them all with its glorious rings and its many interesting moons.  We humble humans sit on-board Earth as it trucks around the Sun in 365.25 days, but Saturn has a bit more ground to cover and it takes a whopping 29.7 years to complete its full orbit.  So if you are 60 years old on Earth, then you would only be 2 years old on Saturn!

Four of the twelve zodiac constellations are shinning upon Queenstown at the moment; Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius and Capricornus. The first three are particularly distinctive once they have been identified.   As spring unfolds we will also get visits from Aquarius, Pisces and Aries. 

New Zealand is renowned for having one of the world’s darkest skies thanks to its low levels of light pollution.  The South Island has many wonders hidden deep within our dark Southern Skies just waiting to be unveiled.   To find out more about our unique skies why not embark on Skyline Queenstown’s Stargazing tour with top of the range telescopes and passionate professional guides.  Stargazing in Queenstown New Zealand is an experience that is breath-taking beyond belief and one you are not likely to forget in a hurry.


Check out what some of our previous visitors have shared about us here.

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