From the big bang to space exploration, Carter Observatory in Wellington took us through time with colorful exhibits.
Sarah and I visited during our recent mother-daughter adventure. We went on Saturday night in hopes of seeing the refracting telescope at work. We were tired after a morning Walk Wellington tour and a visit to the Wellington Zoo in the afternoon, but the day had a clear sky and we wanted to see the stars.
We began our visit in the galleries where many of the exhibits are interactive, while details filled the walls, allowed each of us to learn as much as we wanted.
At our ticket time we headed to the Planetarium show where our reclining seats allowed us to see a simulated night sky. (Tip: Best seats are towards the back). Our show was a “double feature”, the first on a fascinating current event, the Google Lunar XPrize, a privately funded Race to the Moon. The second was the sky over the Southern Hemisphere.
My personal highlight was learning to find south with the stars during the show. Many people have tried to teach this to me, and until Carter Observatory’s simple method I have never quite understood it.
How to Find South with the Stars:
- Locate the constellation Cruz (the Southern Cross). If you unsure as to which set of stars make up Cruz, look for the nearby, and very bright Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri (the pointer stars) .
- Next look off the bottom of the Southern Cross, and find Acharner (see graphic below). It is the tenth brightest stars in the sky, also the bluest. (It’s the brightest star off of the bottom of Cruz, several lengths away)
- Point your left hand at the top star of the Cruz.
- Point your right hand at Acherner
- Bring your hands together, then drop them towards the horizon and you are pointing South.
Trying this during the show was brilliant, as the artificial sky has the four directions labeled at the lower edge. When my hands came down on the “S” I knew the method worked. I can’t get this reassurance outdoors.
Finally Time to See the Real Stars
After the show we headed to the telescope:
Practical Travel Tips for Visitors
- Carter Observatory is located at the top of the hill in Wellington’s Botanic Gardens. Part of the fun is taking the cable car up to the top.
- If you have a few extra hours, my suggested tourist day in Wellington starts with a cable car ride up to the top, followed by a visit to Cable Car Museum (free), then a visit Carter Observatory, a walk through the botanic gardens (free) on the path that leads down to the city and then take a tour of Parliament (free).
- If you visit at night remember the last cable car down leaves at 10pm.
- The bonus of going at night:
Being married to a rocket scientist, I always visit places like this. Carter Observatory is a destination I would recommend whilst in Wellington, and a must-see if this is your first visit to the Southern Hemisphere.
Have you visited Carter Observatory? Do you use the stars for navigation?
Disclaimer: We were guests of Carter Observatory. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own.
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