UC Connect: Return of Stargazing in the city

Presenter: Associate Professor Karen Pollard
  • Date: Wednesday, 14 June 2023 to Wednesday, 14 June 2023
  • Time: 07:00PM to 08:00PM
  • Location: UC Arts Recital Room and the Observatory Tower in Te Matatiki Toi Ora The Arts Centre, The Arts Centre
  • Ticket: Free

Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha University of Canterbury astronomers are bringing stargazing back to the centre of Ōtautahi Christchurch.

For 114 years, the people of Ōtautahi Christchurch were able to explore the wonders of the night sky and the science of astronomy through the University of Canterbury’s stargazing sessions using their historic Townsend Telescope in the Observatory Tower on the original town site of the University of Canterbury (UC), now Te Matatiki Toi Ora The Arts Centre.

Now, University of Canterbury astronomers, including postgraduate students, led by Associate Professor Karen Pollard, are re-commencing their night-time tours of the Observatory Tower, astronomy dome and stargazing (weather permitting!) through the Townsend Teece Telescope.

Join UC for a free astronomical night-time talk and to see an antique telescope in a rebuilt observatory tower on Wednesday 14 June, from 7pm.

Associate Professor Pollard, Director of the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory says that for many Cantabrians, it was their first introduction to astronomy and the wonders of the night sky.

“The telescope is useful for introducing children to the stars and getting them interested in asking questions about how the world and the universe works. This is why the Observatory was so useful as an educational outreach tool – it’s a fabulous hands-on way of bringing astronomy and science to people.

“That astronomy allows us to think about our place in the universe and is particularly fascinating for children.”

The historic telescope, donated to Canterbury College by James Townsend in 1891, was constructed in 1864 by renowned English instrument-making firm T.Cooke & Sons. Since its installation in the Observatory Tower in 1896, the telescope has been maintained and operated for public viewing by the University of Canterbury’s School of Physical and Chemical Sciences (and its predecessors) as part of its commitment to science education in the community.

The Observatory Tower collapsed during the Canterbury earthquakes more than 12 years ago. The badly damaged telescope was eventually recovered from the rubble of the tower. Miraculously, the heart of the telescope – the fragile glass lens – was intact. Long-serving UC mechanical technician Graeme Kershaw undertook the daunting, delicate task of restoring the telescope as his retirement project. After Graeme’s death, Quentin Rowe completed the project.

The restoration of the historic telescope was possible thanks to a generous donation by UC alumnus Professor David Teece, Leigh Teece and their family. Renamed the Townsend Teece Telescope, it was recently returned to a beautiful replica Observatory Tower in its heritage central city home in Te Matatiki Toi Ora The Arts Centre.

“This painstaking restoration work and generosity from our donors and volunteers mean that Cantabrians and visitors to enjoy stargazing through this beautiful and historic telescope once again,” Dr Pollard says.

  • The year 2023 marks the University of Canterbury’s sesquicentenary, with the 150th anniversary theme: Ka titiro whakamuri, ki te anga whakamua | Guided by the past, shaping the future.
  • Tauhere UC Connect public lecture: Return of Stargazing in the city, presented by Associate Professor Karen Pollard, University of Canterbury, from 7pm, Wednesday 14 June 2023, in UC Arts Recital Room and the Observatory Tower in Te Matatiki Toi Ora The Arts Centre, Christchurch. Register to attend free at: canterbury.ac.nz/public-lectures. Tauhere UC Connect talks are also livestreamed on the UC Facebook page, and made available to watch later on YouTube. Please note: Numbers strictly limited, due to the capacity of the Observatory dome.

About the speaker:

Dr Karen Pollard is an Associate Professor at her alma mater, the University of Canterbury. She is also the Director of the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory in Tekapo, and the Townsend Teece Telescope in Christchurch.

Born and raised in Christchurch, Karen began her astronomical journey aged nine when she asked for (and received) a telescope for Christmas. She earned her BSc(Hons) and PhD at UC before taking up research fellowships overseas. In her academic career she has worked and conducted research in South Africa and the United States, before returning to Christchurch to take up a lecturing role at UC, alongside her husband, fellow astronomer UC Associate Professor Michael Albrow.

Her research interests include stellar variability, pulsating stars, binary and multiple star systems  and young stars with planetary systems. She is passionate about what she calls ‘The Music of the Stars’, which is the idea that through asteroseismology, we can observe the natural vibrations of stars (since many periodically swell and contract), which can reveal their interior structure.  Karen is a member of the International Astronomical Union, and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand.


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