Early this morning, Otago Museum director and astronomer Dr Ian Griffin gained a "great" view of a rare celestial event, the planet Saturn being eclipsed by the moon.

"It was perfectly clear in Dunedin.

"I was very, very happy,'' Dr Griffin added.

A lunar occultation is the name given to the passage of the moon in front of a more distant object.


Dr Griffin, who is also a keen photographer, tweeted images taken from "my back garden in Portobello", showing the ringed planet shortly before the occultation by the moon about 12.47am today.

Other images showed Saturn after it re-emerged from behind the moon about 1.47am.

In one tweet, Dr Griffin said that at the time the accompanying image had been taken, "Saturn was 1.459 billion km from Earth''.

"The moon was a tad over 395,000 km away.

"Science is cool!'' he added.

Another image he described as being "from the movie I made of Saturn disappearing behind the moon last night''.

In comments with a third image, he termed the celestial viewing "a brilliant night''.

"Who else saw Saturn disappear behind the moon?'' he also asked.


In a later interview, he said one person intending to watch the event from Dunedin's Beverly-Begg Observatory had flown over from Australia specifically to do so.

The moon was clearly a bright object, but this occultation event, and the arrival of the Australian visitor, further underscored Dunedin's strong potential to develop potentially lucrative dark skies tourism in the future, Dr Griffin said.

Thanks to Dave Bull who sent this photo in of the occultation last night! What a stunning view.

Posted by Dunedin Astronomical Society on Thursday, 25 April 2019

Dunedin Astronomical Society president Ash Pennell invited members of the public to watch the event from the Beverly-Begg Observatory in Robin Hood Park, where about six telescopes were made available for people to use.

Mr Pennell, who has been a keen skywatcher for more than 50 years, said he had never previously seen this occultation event, and added that he was "thoroughly looking for to it''. Mr Pennell said.

The occultation was not regarded as being of great scientific interest in itself - but would be a striking sight, he said.