15 May 2015

Astronomer fights to save Tekapo's Mt John observatory

From Nine To Noon, 9:20 am on 15 May 2015

One of the world's leading astronomers is calling on the Government to save the country's only research observatory.

The Mount John Observatory near Tekapo is struggling after all but one staff member retired. The observatory is the centrepiece of a tourism industry around the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve.

Professor Gerry Gilmore of the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, is currently in New Zealand on a lecture tour for the Royal Astronomical Society, and has written to the Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce urging him to find new ways to fund Mt John, which he says is a precious resource.

Professor Gilmore said if an international facility like Mount John was left to deteriorate it would be an embarrassing loss for New Zealand.

"It is useful and used as a local observatory, but its primary impact is at a national, reputational level for New Zealand."

Pics from Mt John Obs
Pictures: Fraser Gunn.

Professor Gerry Gilmore is also the principal investigator on the European Space Agency's billion dollar Gaia space telescope project, launched in 2013.