Our Sky

The Southern Hemisphere Night Sky

If you’ve never seen it before, prepare to be amazed…

“… Nothing can match the grandeur, the wonderment that comes from staring up into THE real star filled canopy above and realizing that you are a part of that creation.” Dr Timothy Ferris

Many people, especially those living in built up urban areas, have never experienced the true wonder of a clear and dark night sky. Around Twizel, the night skies are some of the darkest night skies you will ever see without having to travel to places like Antartica because the air is clear and there is little or no artificial light pollution.

How do we know Twizel is one of the darkest night skies in the world?

There are a number of factors, both natural and man made, which effect how dark the night sky is. The biggest threats to the night sky are man made effects like air (smog) and light pollution from things like street lighting. With the start of the industrial revolution and a rapidly growing human population finding areas with dark skies is getting harder and harder.

To find out how dark the night sky is astronomers use a scale called the Bortle Dark Sky Scale. This scale is numbered from Class 1 representing the darkest night sky where thousands of stars can be viewed through to Class 9 where very few stars can be seen. For many people living near or in large cities or in areas where there is a lot of air pollution and artificial lighting views of the night sky can be very poor and would rate as a Bortle Scale Class 9 with only features like the moon and the very brightest stars visible.

Twizel, with its clear air and lack of light pollution the night sky here is rated a Bortle Scale Class 1 as thousands of stars and other night sky features can be seen and will give you one of the best opportunities to experience the night sky in New Zealand.

How is the Southern Hemisphere Sky Different to the Northern Hemisphere Sky?

For visitors from the Northern Hemisphere the obvious difference is everything is going to look different from what you may be used to. As New Zealand is “down under” our point of view of the stars could mean constellations you may normally recognise may be harder to find or unidentifiable. There are also features which are not usually seen in the northern hemisphere like the Southern Cross and the Southern Celestial Pole.

What are the main features of the Southern Night Sky?

The one feature most people would have heard of is the Southern Cross, other fascinating but possibly less well known features are the Southern Celestial Pole and the Coalsack Nebula. There are also features that Northern hemisphere visitors may know such as Orion and Scorpio to name a few. When the right conditions occur there is also the opportunity to see stunning occurences like the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights and at other times meter showers.


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