Professor Brian Boyle
Professor Brian Boyle

By Professor Brian Boyle

Winterstellar celebrates the dark skies of Central Otago sitting aside the -45 degree line longitude.

A special place to observe the night sky, midway between the earth’s equator and South Pole, yet further south on the planet than 99.99% of the world’s population.  

The only latitude on the planet where the central part of our Milky Way galaxy, the Southern Cross, and the clouds of Magellan all pass within 30 degrees of overhead. 

And a place where Matariki hugs our horizon on schist and tussock grass. 

Aurora and gallactic core over Mitchells Cottage
Milky Way Core, Magellanic Cloud and Aurora Australis over Mitchells Cottage – photo by Andy Davey

These spectacular sights are all easily visible to the naked eye under the dark skies of Central Otago.  But these dark skies also allow us to see some of the spectacular bright and dark nebulae towards our galactic centre and in the Magellanic clouds. 

The Lagoon and Eta Carina nebulae in the Milky Way are visible to the naked eye, reaching 20 degrees and 15 degrees from the zenith during winter and autumn respectively. 

Lagoon and Trifid - photo by Brian Boyle
Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae – photo by Brian Boyle

The dark Coal Sack nebula is also high in the sky during autumn, and Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic cloud is visible 30 degrees from the zenith in the summer.

Photographs reveal even further wonders –  such as the Dragons of Ara and the Vela Supernova remnant, both of which pass overhead in Otago during the autumn.

Dragons of Ara - photo by Brian Boyle
Dragons of Ara – photo by Brian Boyle

We also span a special longitude, sharing it with mostly ocean, save for Antarctica, the southern islands of Vanuatu, Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands and far eastern Siberia.  

For events in the sky, the inhabitants of Central Otago share a temporal perspective with less than 50,000 other people on the entire planet.

Come and celebrate just how special a place we live in!