Much to the delight of Whanganui stargazers, the historic telescope is back in place at the Ward Observatory after a recent refurbishment.

The 9.5 inch refractor telescope is the largest unmodified telescope of its type in the North Island and is used regularly by the Wanganui Astronomical Society.

President Ross Skilton said the society acquired the secondhand telescope in 1902.

"It was made by Thomas Cooke & Sons of York in 1859 in England, with the mount made in the same year by Isaac Fletcher in England," Skilton said.

Advertisement

"It's been a great pleasure to restore what was once New Zealand's premier astronomical instrument," Skilton said.

The telescope was refurbished by New Zealand telescope specialist and astronomer, Gordon Hudson, who carried out the telescope's previous refurbishments in 2007.

Hudson says refurbishing such a large, old piece of equipment has its challenges.

"When I take on an instrument like this I clean and repair every screw and re-tap the holes using the same thread as before.

"I always put the instruments back into full working order but dents are not removed as they are part of the history of the telescope."

Whanganui District Council heritage adviser Scott Flutey said the telescope was one of the first civic optical instruments in New Zealand and a strong indicator of Whanganui's longstanding commitment to science and technology.

"The Ward Observatory which houses the telescope was built in 1903," he said.

The building is one of the oldest observatories in New Zealand established by amateur astronomer Joseph Thomas Ward (1862-1927).

Advertisement

"Joseph Ward and his assistant, local lawyer Thomas Allison, made a special study of double stars. Many of these observations are now recognised in international star catalogues as 'Ward doubles', Flutey said.

"He also made astronomy accessible to the general public through lectures, opening the observatory to visitors, and in his weekly column in the Wanganui Herald."

Whanganui District councillor and Whanganui Regional Heritage Trustee Helen Craig said the observatory was a treasured asset.

"Whanganui has some amazing heritage structures and many of these are still in use, like the observatory and telescope, more than 100 years later.

"The observatory is the very first item on the council's heritage inventory and registered as a Category One place with Heritage New Zealand and we'll be celebrating Whanganui's unique heritage in our upcoming Heritage Month in October," Craig said.

The telescope's refurbishment was funded by Whanganui District Council, which owns the Ward Observatory.

Advertisement

Skilton said Wanganui Astronomical Society volunteers have enjoyed working with Whanganui District Council staff to enhance the observatory and telescope.

"The telescope should be good for another hundred years now and it is looking beautiful," he said.

"As part of the refurbishment, we removed the old camera that was attached in 1976 so it no longer detracts from its appearance."

He was looking forward to clear skies for a public viewing session on Friday night.

"We have had people turning up to the last couple of sessions but it was too cloudy to see much."

The Ward Observatory is open on alternate Friday nights from 7pm for public viewing, (weather permitting) and by arrangement for groups at other times. Admission is $2 or $5 for family groups. The next public viewing is scheduled for Friday, July 24. See the Wanganui Astronomical Society Facebook page to find out more.

Advertisement