Astronomy group 50 years old

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With the telescopes at the Ashburton College observatory are Ken Lucas, Claire Chibanguza and Alistair Perkins.

Stargazers associated with the Ashburton Astronomy Group have been checking out the night sky for the past 50 years.

The group administers and maintains the observatory located at Ashburton College and its members have a an interest in the natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena.

The primary instrument in the observatory is a 140-year-old equatorially mounted 235mm With-Browning newtonian reflector telescope.

The group also has a 203mm Schmidt-Cassegrain Celestron, which also has a tracking motor.

A new, more portable telescope is a recent purchase and enables the group to take it off site for demonstrations and talks.

The observatory is tucked away in the grounds of Ashburton College and has a roll-off-roof. It was opened in February 1986.

Long time Ashburton Astronomy Group member Alistair Perkins said he was still at school when science teacher and Canterbury Astronomical Society member Bob Evans proposed a new local astronomy group.

He had been supported by Stewart Lauder and David Bayne and 18 people had attended a meeting to show support for the new stand alone group.

Mr Perkins said over the years the Ashburton Astronomy Group had hosted hundred of visiting groups, including schoolchildren, girl guides and adults.

“Most people have never looked through a telescope before, so it’s been a real eye opener for most.”

He said the moon and all of the planets could be seen through a telescope, if you knew where to look and if conditions were right.

Fellow group member Ken Lucas said the With-Browning reflector telescope had come from England and had been gifted by local benefactor FZD Ferriman in the 1920s.

It had later been offered to Ashburton High School and was located in a building at the site occupied today by Ashburton Intermediate.

It was used by the astronomy group and students and later moved into storage.

After restoration and refurbishment it had been set up at the Ashburton College observatory.

Mr Lucas said a dozen astronomy group members met monthly at the college, usually between the months of April and October.

Members had enjoyed hearing from guest speakers over the years and had also been on trips to Mt John and other locations.

Ashburton Astronomy Group members will mark 50 years with a celebratory lunch on Saturday. Anyone with a connection to the group is invited for a cuppa at the former Menorlue building at 3pm. Contact Ken (308 9203) or Alistair (308 9219) for group information.