Sky’s the limit for astrophotographer

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Gazing at the stars is a casual pastime for some, but for others it’s a little bit of an obsession.
The latter probably best describes Oamaru astrophotographer Damien McNamara, who will give a talk about viewing auroras, local astronomy and the Juno Jupiter mission at Adventure Books in Harbour St today. Mr McNamara, whose photographs of auroras from locations around North Otago have become popular online, said there was a “bit of a lull” now when it came to viewing auroras and he felt it was a good time to get the message out there that North Otago offered some of the best viewing conditions
around.  “It’s a good time to get out and educate people about the skies and everything, and in some cases the danger of auroras, because they are created by the sun’s radiation.
“You’re looking at the sun creating a flare, going through space. We’ve got all of these satellites in space monitoring activity. There is a massive amount of science behind it … it’s awesome.”
An aurora, sometimes referred to as a polar light, is a natural light display in the sky, seen mostly in high latitude regions, such as the Arctic and Antarctic.
Auroras are produced from the release of energy when the magnetosphere is disturbed by the solar wind _ charged particles from the sun. As a result, lights of various colours are emitted.
Mr McNamara, a member of the North Otago Astronomical Society, said he became interested in the science behind auroras only recently. “It’s only in the last two or three years … it’s just taken off. I got my first digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera about three years ago and it’s been all go since then.”
He said with a good quality digital SLR camera anyone could shoot an aurora, as long as they knew where to go. “Locally, the best place to go is the dead end of Bushy Beach Rd, down by the penguin colony. It’s dark, there’s no street lights, it’s close to town. The only thing I tell people is if you are going out hunting for auroras is scout your location out during the day.” He said another good site in Oamaru was above the area around the Oamaru landfill.
His talk will also include what has been happening on the local astronomy scene, which he said was going through a “resurgence”. A plan is in place to update the society’s observatory, on the site where the Observatory Hill Retirement Village is being built. “We are going through a bit of a process at the moment of restoring the observatory (above Hospital Hill) to a state where it can be used. We’ve been in talks with a few of the directors of the village. That’s one of the reasons it was called the Observatory Hill Retirement Village, so we can work hand in hand. “The observatory is owned by the North Otago Astronomical Society, so we’re going to start having viewing nights once again.” He said another plan, still in its early stages, was to construct a new observatory on the “dark side” of Cape Wanbrow, south of the gun emplacement.
Mr McNamara’s talk starts at 7pm.