Story: Astronomy – overview
Page 3 – Education
Astronomy for everyone
In the 1960s and 1970s Television New Zealand ran the popular astronomy programme, The night sky. Hosted by amateur astronomer Peter Read, this series was an important source of information about modern astronomy and space exploration.
Major metropolitan newspapers publish regular columns that detail the prominent features visible in the sky at the time.
Astronomy in schools
For years astronomy was a neglected science in New Zealand schools. It was not until the mid-1990s that it featured in the science curriculum under the heading ‘planet earth and beyond’. Few science teachers had proficiency in the subject, most having received little or no astronomy instruction in their senior schooling or graduate courses, and there were limited resources provided to them. Some of the local astronomical societies filled the gap by offering basic courses for teachers and students. The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand publishes Galaxy – Te Korurangi, a quarterly magazine for children.
Astronomy in universities
Astronomy as a subject for teaching and research is concentrated at the University of Canterbury. Its department of physics and astronomy has specialists in optical astronomy, with interests mainly in stars. There has also been research into meteoroid dust particles in the solar system (using a meteor radar facility at Birdlings Flat, near Christchurch) and cosmology or astroparticle physics.
Four other universities (Auckland, Auckland University of Technology, Massey and Victoria) have significant teaching and research programmes in astronomy, although each has only one academic staff member in the field.
By 2005 about a dozen professional astronomers worked in New Zealand, mainly in the universities. About 50 New Zealanders were professional astronomers overseas, and many have been or are astronomers of international distinction.
In 2005 a South Pacific version of Stonehenge was opened near Carterton, in the Wairarapa. Led by astronomer Richard Hall, members of the Phoenix Astronomical Society built a 24-pillar henge especially designed for observation and interpretation of southern night skies. Associated with the henge are two conventional observatories. One houses the 15-centimetre refractor telescope owned by the late Peter Read, and the other, the Matariki observatory, has a 60-centimetre Cassegrain telescope designed for electronic CCD (charge coupled device) photography.