Winter opening for Earth and Sky Centre

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Progressing . . . The dome constructed in Timaru for the section of the Earth and Sky Astronomy Centre housing the Brashear Telescope was installed last week. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/NGAI TAHU TOURISM

by Greta Yeoman

The Earth and Sky Astronomy Centre in Tekapo is now expected to open in July.

It follows more than a year of construction work on the lakeside venture, which is a joint partnership between Ngai Tahu Tourism and the Murray and Ozawa families.

A Ngai Tahu Tourism spokesman had previously told The Courier in February it was expected to be open in “autumn 2019”, however this had now shifted to July.

The most recent stage of the project build – which began in February 2018 – was installing the roof of the observatory dome, which was completed late last week.

It houses the 125-year-old Brashear Telescope, which has been out of use for more than five decades.

Coming along . . . Workers on-site at Earth and Sky’s astronomy centre construction site install the base of the 125-year-old Brashear telescope. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The telescope was donated to the trust in 2016 by the University of Canterbury, which had been given to it by the University of Pennsylvania in 1963.

It had been too expensive for the university to build the facilities for the telescope at Mt John Observatory – just up the road from the Lake Tekapo township – so it had been in storage in Yaldhurst for decades.

Earth and Sky operations manager David Murray said it had been “spectacular” to watch the dome being moved into place by crane.

It was manufactured by Industrial Fibreglass Solutions in Timaru and transported to Tekapo in two halves, before being reassembled on site.

Installation of the Brashear Telescope also took place last week.

The Victorian telescope stands up to just over 9m high and has an 18-inch refracting lens, and is crafted of brass, iron, steel and wood.

It was used by Percival Lowell in the late 1800s for his studies of Mars.

Mr Murray said it was “amazing” to see the telescope’s installation, particularly as it had spent 50 years sitting in storage before restoration began two years ago.

“We are very privileged to have an instrument like this as part of our new astronomy centre.”

However, it had also been seeking $1.4million in public funding to restore and install the telescope on the Lake Tekapo site.

The astronomy centre – expected to cost $11million – was also the recipient of $3million from the then-National Government’s Tourism Growth Partnership fund in 2016.

However, the connected Tomorrow’s Skies Charitable Trust – which was established by Earth and Sky partners Graeme Murray and Hide Ozawa in 2009 – had also sought $1.4million in public donations for the telescope’s installation and restoration.

The astronomy centre is expected to educate visitors about the southern night sky from both a scientific and traditional Maori perspective.

The Mackenzie Basin (Te Manahuna) is home to the only International Dark Sky Reserve in the southern hemisphere.

The Earth and Sky Astronomy Centre is now expected to open to the public in July.