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Aoraki Mackenzie Starlight Festival

01 September 2017

Stargazers and astro-tourists will be treated to three days of night sky magic at the Aoraki Mackenzie Starlight Festival.

Aoraki Mackenzie Starlight Festival

Stargazers and astro-tourists will be treated to three days of night sky magic at the Aoraki Mackenzie Starlight Festival.

The biennial festival runs from October 13-15 in Mt Cook Village and Tekapo and celebrates the Mackenzie Basin and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park as one of the best stargazing locations in the world.

Festival-goers will learn about the night sky, the effects of light pollution and gain an understanding of outer space through a mix of scientific, educational and cultural events, such as lectures, planetarium shows and a photography exhibition.

Keynote speakers include NASA scientist Dr Natalie Batalha, who was named as one of the 100 most influential people on Earth by Time Magazine in 2017 for her contributions to the discovery of habitable exoplanets. Dr Batalha will discuss the possibility of finding potentially habitable environments in the not-so-distant future.

Another festival highlight includes a lecture and video presentation by award-winning photographer and time-lapse filmmaker Mark Gee, whose short film Full Moon Silhouettes gained international acclaim. Gee enjoys the challenge of combining New Zealand’s striking landscapes with the ethereal beauty of the night sky in new, creative ways.

“We’re extremely lucky to have the likes of Dr Natalie Batalha and Mark Gee on board for the festival, alongside several other exciting speakers,” says Professor John Hearnshaw of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Canterbury. “We hope the varied programme will attract all sorts of people, from international visitors and academics to amateur astronomers and families with school-age children.”

The Mackenzie Basin and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park region has some of the most beautiful scenery in New Zealand; from clear starry nights and crisp sunny days to turquoise blue lakes and snow-capped mountains. It is home to the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory in Tekapo and the southern hemisphere’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, which at 4,300 square kilometres is also the largest in the southern hemisphere.

The dark sky reserve is ‘gold-rated’ due to the quality of its almost light-pollution-free skies, devoid of urban light. On a clear night, a spectacular number of stars are visible to the naked eye.