It appears Oamaru has a growing throng of stargazers if the numbers of people visiting the town’s recently reopened observatory are anything to go by.
The Stoke St observatory, owned and operated by the North Otago Astronomical Society, was closed to the public in 2013 as a result of the society’s dwindling numbers.
It was barely used for five years, until the society decided to give it a new lease of life and hold a public viewing night on June 1.
Several such nights had been held since and had attracted good numbers, North Otago Astronomical Society Damien McNamara said.
“Numbers-wise, it’s fantastic. It’s been a lot better than we thought it would.
“We were expecting .. sort of being up there for a couple of hours on end and seeing one or two people, but we’re going up there and there’s two or three carloads already waiting to go in the door.”
About 80 people visited the observatory in the first month of viewing nights.
Overall, visitor numbers, made up of individuals, school groups and private bookings, were “literally in the hundreds”, Mr McNamara said.
“It’s an amazing response, really.”
This time of year was ideal for viewing the skies, as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were all visible through the observatory’s six- and eight-inch telescopes, as were nebulae and other galaxies.
With plenty of interest around, the society was now working towards how it could make the stargazing experience better.
“We’d love to see a big, dedicated telescope,” Mr McNamara said.
“We’ve got that big six-inch sitting in the middle which can’t really move – it’s more a decorative piece. We’d love to see something like the Beverly-Begg [observatory] in Dunedin that’s got a big 14-inch telescope.
“But there’s still a couple of issues with the dome.”
Those included a leak in the roof and the overall condition of the structure.
A spring working bee was planned to spruce up the observatory so its look complimented the adjacent Observatory Village Lifecare complex. Some landscaping was also needed, Mr McNamara said.
The observatory is next open to the public on August 31.