Astronomy Section

The NSS astronomy section

Astronomy section activities fall into two categories: meetings which usually include a talk by a speaker and possibly other reports on what to observe and current astronomy news items, and observing, both at public and member-only sessions at the Cawthron Atkinson Observatory (at Clifton Terrace School), at home observatories and backyards, and at dark sky locations in the district including  the recently designated Wai-Iti Dark Sky Park.

Membership fee to join the section is an $20 additional to membership fee to join the Nelson Science Society itself. Please deposit the $20 fees to ANZ account number 11-7400-0445502-14 with SUBS21 in the reference and your surname in the particulars, and send an email to

Members enjoy the following benefits :

  • free access to the observatory
  • loan one of the two library loan telescopes (deposit required for loan) – see below.
  • In the near future, Astronomy section members will also be able to access discounts on astronomy equipment.
  • Experienced members are usually more than happy to assist or advise in regard to possible equipment purchases or tips on what astronomical objects might be good to observe in the sky.

Currently the Astronomy Section is seeking to fill secretary and membership secretary committee positions.

If you are interested to become a member of the astronomy section or to assist with the organisation please contact the convenor, Hamish Barker on 0226760897 or email


Public nights at the observatory start after daylight savings ends (we don’t generally open during daylight savings because twilight goes too late.). All welcome!

Public nights are held on each clear sky (or at least partly clear) Friday evening until  at least the end of September, from 7.30pm to 9.30pm, Cawthron Atkinson Observatory, Clifton Terrace School, Atawhai, Nelson.

Private observatory group sessions for can also be arranged. For further information, please contact Hamish Barker, Astronomy Section Convenor, on 0226760897.

Come along and observe the universe through our C14 telescope and our other  pair of  portable telescopes.

What to see?

Until late july the only planets other than the moon which will observable in the evening sky will be venus close to sunset, and then saturn will start to rise high enough to see from the observatory during the public nights from early august. from mid august, Jupiter will also be just high enough to see, and at the end of August there will be nights when venus, saturn and jupiter will be simultaneously visible (in different parts of the sky). When the moon isn’t in the sky, there are a plenty of interesting nebulae (gas and dust clouds between the stars), star clusters and galaxies to see, although the latter are always faint and need a good dark sky and dark adapted eyes (keep your phone off, the bright screen stops your eyes adapting).

The astronomy section has a couple of “library” telescopes are available for 1 month renewable loan with $50 deposit (refunded in full with return of equipment as loaned) and a short training session.

Public night admission charges to support the running costs of the observatory are (cash only) $5 per person, $15 families. Astronomy Section members free admission.


Wai-iti Dark Sky Park

Congratulations to Ralph Bradley and the  ‘Top of the South Dark Sky’ committee and its online identity ‘Dark Skies Tasman’ for their five years of hard work and their success in getting the Wai-iti Recreation Reserve and Tunnicliff Forest designated New Zealand’s first ‘Dark Sky Park’.

The park covers 135 hectares of Tasman District Council (TDC) land, located 4km south of Wakefield, and accompanies existing International Dark Sky Association (IDA)-recognised Dark Sky Reserves and Sanctuaries in Aoraki-Mackenzie, Stewart Island/Rakiura and Aotea/Great Barrier.

Regular star party events happen at Wai-iti. For details and to please register for them, head to the Dark Skies Tasman website.

      Other Up coming events:

 Training of Night sky guides:
The newly formed Aotearoa Astrotourism Academy will be offering its first course for the
training of night sky guides in Tekapo 10-12 September.
Details are on their website and in this file

 Astronomy Talks

For the July and August meetings, club member Dr Bill Rea will be presenting presenting a series of talks on gravitational wave astronomy and dark matter as follows:

July meeting (already passed) was Gravitational Wave Astronomy

August meeting: Dark Matter — The Death of Modified Gravity
This talk  will review three lines of evidence (galaxy cluster velocity dispersion, galaxy rotation curves, and gravitational
lensing) which lead astronomers believe that there is a substantial amount of dark matter in the universe.

Bill will then give a brief recap of the july talk for anyone who missed it, and then cover the gravitational wave detection event number GW170817 and associated other observations and discuss how this rules out several entireclasses of modified gravity theories leaving modified gravity with almost no viable options.
7:30pm Thursday 5th August, Milton Room, Cawthron Institute.