An Astral Heritage
23 November 2008 – Tekapo’s Graeme Murray – director of Earth & Sky at Mt John Observatory – is the driving force behind obtaining UNESCO World Heritage Starlight Reserve status for the pristine skies above the Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mount Cook area. It is the first time any group has attempted this, and Murray says international interest in the idea has been “immense”. After a 2001 warning estimated the observatory would have to close its doors in just 10 years due to light pollution from house and street lighting and the impending development of the tourist town below, Murray’s major goal is to try and keep the sky relatively untouched. Operated by the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Canterbury, the Observatory is internationally recognised as one of the best-situated observatories for viewing the southern night skies. “This area would be the first in the world that is in the sky. It encourages people, and UNESCO, to look up as well as around them,” Murray says. All going to plan, he is hoping for UNESCO support to be officiated by next year, which, coincidentally, is the 2009 International Year of Astronomy.