Dr Rangi Matamua in conversation about Māori astronomy and star lore


Photo used with the kind permission of ‘The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes Secretariat’; all rights reserved.

Dr Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe) is one of Aotearoa’s top science communicators, a professor at the University of Waikato and an expert in the fields of Māori astronomy and star lore, as well as Māori language development, research and revitalisation. Not only is he an expert in these fields but he loves to talk about them and travels extensively throughout the country giving public lectures about Matariki and Māori astronomy.

Dr Matamua received the Prime Minister’s Science Prize and won the 2020 Callaghan Medal, as well as being awarded the Fellowship of the Royal Society Te Apārangi in recognition that his work “has revolutionised understandings of Māori astronomy, and in particular Matariki”.

Dr Matamua has been critical of the way Western scientific astronomy  belittles or ignores traditional Māori knowledge. One of his future plans to address this imbalance is to create a Māori observatory, based on a traditional observatory but also using modern technology and knowledge. He is also the author of several excellent books on these subjects.

This interview was done in conjunction with Caffeine and Aspirin, the arts and entertainment review show on Radioactive FM and was conducted by host Tanya Ashcroft.

We are thrilled that Dr Matamua took time out from his very busy schedule to talk to us about his new book, his career, and loads of other fascinating scientific topics, and we wish to extend our heartfelt thanks to him. For more information visit https://livingbythestars.co.nz/.

Dr Matamua’s books are available to borrow from the library; see details below.

Matariki : te whetū tapu o te tau / Matamua, Rangi
“In midwinter, Matariki rises in the pre-dawn sky, and its observation is celebrated with incantations on hilltops at dawn, balls, exhibitions, dinners and a vast number of events. The Matariki tradition has been re-established, and its regeneration coincides with a growing interest in Māori astronomy. Still, there remain some unanswered questions about how Matariki was traditionally observed. What is Matariki? Why did Māori observe Matariki? How did Māori traditionally celebrate Matariki? When and how should Matariki be celebrated? This book seeks answers to these questions and explores what Matariki was in a traditional sense so it can be understood and celebrated in our modern society.”(Adapted from Catalogue)

Matariki : the star of the year / Matamua, Rangi
“In midwinter, Matariki rises in the pre-dawn sky, and its observation is celebrated with incantations on hilltops at dawn, balls, exhibitions, dinners and a vast number of events. The Matariki tradition has been re-established, and its regeneration coincides with a growing interest in Māori astronomy. Still, there remain some unanswered questions about how Matariki was traditionally observed. These include: What is Matariki? Why did Māori observe Matariki? How did Māori traditionally celebrate Matariki? When and how should Matariki be celebrated? There has been a resurgence of interest in and celebration of Matariki, and this book provides accessible information about its meaning and significance, how to locate Matariki and when, traditional customs and knowledge regarding Matariki and current-day practices”( Adapted from Catalogue)

Ngā kete mātauranga : Māori scholars at the research interface
“In this beautiful and transformative book, 24 Maori academics share their personal journeys, revealing what being Māori has meant for them in their work. Their perspectives provide insight for all New Zealanders into how mātauranga is positively influencing the Western-dominated disciplines of knowledge in the research sector. It is a shameful fact, says co-editor Jacinta Ruru in her introduction to Ngā Kete Mātauranga, that in 2020, only about 5 percent of academic staff at universities in Aotearoa New Zealand are Māori. Tertiary institutions have for the most part been hostile places for Indigenous students and staff, and this book is an important call for action. ‘It is well past time that our country seriously commits to decolonising the tertiary workforce, curriculum and research agenda,’ writes Professor Ruru.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Meteor Showers

There are three meteor showers you can watch in New Zealand this year; head to Royal Astronomy website for more details. And have a browse below at the books starring astronomy.

Dark skies : a practical guide to astrotourism / Stimac, Valerie
“Discover the best stargazing destinations around the world with Lonely Planet. This comprehensive companion includes guides to 35 dark-sky sites and national parks, where to see the aurora, the next decade of total solar eclipses and how to view rocket launches, plus the lowdown on commercial space flight”–Page 4 of cover.” (Catalogue)

 

Night sky with the naked eye : how to find planets, constellations, satellites and other night sky wonders without a telescope / King, Bob
“No telescope? no problem! Learn how to spot the International Space Station, follow the moon through its phases, find planets, and watch meteor showers. The author also introduces readers to the best apps and websites to help skywatchers enjoy the wonders of the night sky without the need for a telescope or other expensive equipment.” (Catalogue)

 

The path of minor planets / Greer, Andrew Sean
“In 1965, on a small island in the South Pacific, a group of astronomers gather to witness the passing of a comet, but when a young boy dies during a meteor shower, the lives of the scientists and their loved ones change in subtle yet profound ways. Denise struggles for respect in her professional life, married Eli becomes increasingly attracted to Denise and her quixotic mind, and young Lydia attempts to escape the scientists’ long-casting shadows. Andrew Sean Greer’s remarkable and sweeping first novel, The Path of Minor Planets, is an exploration of chances taken and lost, of love found and broken, and of time’s subtle gravitational pull on the lives of everyday and extraordinary people.” (Catalogue)

Astronomy.
“The world’s best-selling astronomy magazine offers you the most exciting, visually stunning, and timely coverage of the heavens above. Each monthly issue includes expert science reporting, vivid color photography, complete sky coverage, spot-on observing tips, informative telescope reviews, and much more! All this in a user-friendly style that’s perfect for astronomers at any level.” (Catalogue)

The practical astronomer / Gater, Will
“An accessible and inspirational astronomy guide that gives you all the knowledge you need to expand your understanding of the night sky.This guide explains and demystifies stargazing, teaching you to recognise different objects such as moons, comets, and asteroids, and explains how they move through the sky over the course of the night and the year. The Practical Astronomer begins with observation with the naked eye, and illustrated introductions show you how to set up and use binoculars and telescopes, and how to take your own pictures.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

30-second astronomy : the 50 most mindblowing discoveries in astronomy, each explained in half a minute
“A beautifully illustrated, full-colour guide with all of the big questions of the world above our heads explained in half a minute.” (Catalogue)

 

 

Meteorites : a journey through space and time / Bevan, Alex
“Meteorites is a lavishly illustrated full-colour reference work by two acknowledged world authorities on the subject. Written in an accessible style, the book explains what meteorites tell us about the early history of our solar system” (Catalogue)

 

 

 

How To Shoot The Stars – A Dazzling Astronomy Night

For those who were lucky enough to attend, Stephen Chadwick’s lecture was everything one could hope for and much more. Informative, fascinating, beautiful. The evening culminated into the screening of a video of the myriad high quality photographs taken by Steve over the years, compounded into a logical yet attractive slide show. This grandiose display of what the sky above us has to offer was set to a sensitive, moody and perfectly pitched improvisation on keyboard by Oliver Devlin. The audience was captivated and had many questions to ask.

For all the unanswered questions, Stephen Chadwick’s “Imaging the Southern Sky ” is an authoritative reference for years to come.

The library has a comprehensive collection of books and magazines on astronomy. For further information on how to find resources on astronomy, check out our Science page, or visit our non-fiction shelves in the Dewey area starting at 520.

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Curious about Curiosity?

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is scheduled to land on the red planet at 5.31pm on Monday 6 August and you’re invited to Carter Observatory to witness this scientifically significant event hosted live by Carter and their colleagues from the KiwiSpace Foundation (if Curiosity survives its descent to the Martian surface that is…).

This special event will be running from 4.30pm with insights provided by the KiwiMars crew, followed by the live link up to that last “7 minutes of terror” as the rover descends onto the planet surface. This will be a great opportunity to learn about humankind’s next steps into space exploration, with the rover’s objectives including searching for past or present life, studying the Martian climate and geology, and collecting data for a future manned mission to Mars. (Note that the last planetarium show that day will be at 3pm so if you go up after that to watch the event admission will be on an exhibition only ticket basis: $10 adults / $ 8 concessions / $4 children / free entry to Star Pass holders).

The Transit of Venus is TODAY!

Watching the Transit of Venus at Central Library

Well, sadly the weather may be stopping us from seeing the Transit of Venus as it happens here in Wellington today – but all is not lost.

Come into Central Library today and see the transit streaming live from the NASA website by the display on the 1st floor.  You can also meet and ask questions with members from the Wellington Astronomical Society who are available until around 2pm to talk with people who are interested in the transit or astronomy generally.

So do come and take a look if you’re passing by – this is still the last opportunity in our lifetime to see the Transit of Venus and join in with thousands of people all around the world who will also be watching at the very same moment.

And you can still also see displays about the Transit of Venus on the 1st and 2nd floors at Central Library at the moment, including items from our Rare Book Collection such as an original copy of Sydney Parkinson’s journal of Captain Cook’s voyage to Tahiti to specifically observe the 1769 transit (before he then further explored the Pacific, including New Zealand).  And check out our Science popular topic page with links to books and good websites with more information about the Transit of Venus too.

Great Transit of Venus talk last night

Transits of Venus talk by Professor John HarperA big thank you to Professor John Harper for a great talk about Transits of Venus at Central Library last night. Both the scientific aspects of the Transit of Venus and historical notes of interests from previous transits were explained and brought to life by Professor Harper as he shared his considerable expertise and knowledge on this fascinating astronomical phenomenon.

And thank you also to everyone who came along last night – it was fantastic to see so many of you who are interested in the Transit of Venus.

If you would like to take the last opportunity in our lifetime to see the Transit of Venus yourself, you can join the Wellington Astronomical Society next Wednesday 6th June on the City to Sea Bridge (next to Civic Square) from 9.30am – 2.30pm to view the Transit of Venus as it happens (weather permitting). It’s so important that you don’t ever look at the sun directly as it will damage your eyes irreparably, but you’ll be able to view the transit safely with the Society, using their equipment. If the weather prevents any viewing outside on Wednesday the Society will be stationed inside the library on the first floor (by the current Transit of Venus display) and we’ll have live feeds streaming from around the world.

Also, take a look at the website for The Royal Society of New Zealand, with a range of really good information about the Transit of Venus and what’s happening this year, including the 2012 Transit of Venus Forum – Lifting our Horizon and Pounamu, an online game which asks the question – “How do we treasure and build on what we already have – land, people, knowledge and connections – with new tools, new capacities, new connections and new ways of thinking to generate prosperity for all?” Sign up to play the game and have your say on the issues discussed at the Transit of Venus Forum.

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Free Transit of Venus talk tonight

Transit of Venus

Only one week left to go until we will have the last opportunity in our lifetime to see the Transit of Venus on Wednesday 6 June.   Fingers crossed the weather will be clear and sunny again like it is today for a clear view!

In the meantime join us at Central Library tonight (Wednesday 30 May) for a free talk at 7pm by John Harper (Emeritus Professor of Applied Mathematics, Victoria University) who will bring the story of the Transits of Venus to life in a free talk . Professor Harper will discuss not only what transits are and why they happen, but also why they were considered important enough for expeditions to be sent all over the world to observe them, and New Zealand’s role in previous transits.  Don’t miss out on this great talk – there’s no need to book, just come along and join us on the 2nd (top) floor at Central Library, ready for the talk to begin at 7pm. 

And don’t forget that you can join the Wellington Astronomical Society next Wednesday on the City to Sea Bridge (next to Civic Square) from 9.30am – 2.30pm to view the Transit of Venus as it happens (weather permitting).  It’s so important that you don’t ever look at the sun directly as it will damage your eyes irreparably, but you’ll be able to view the transit safely with the Society, using their equipment.   If the weather prevents any viewing outside on Wednesday the Society will be stationed inside the library on the first floor (by the current Transit of Venus display) and we’ll have live feeds streaming from around the world. 

You can also see displays about the Transit of Venus on the 1st and 2nd floors at Central Library at the moment, including items from our Rare Book Collection such as an original copy of Sydney Parkinson’s journal of Captain Cook’s voyage to Tahiti to specifically observe the 1769 transit (before he then further explored the Pacific, including New Zealand).  And check out our Science popular topic page with links to books and good websites with more information about the Transit of Venus too.

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Random Film Festival Factoids: Agora

Agora (imdb page) recounts the events around and subsequent to the destruction of the library at Alexandria in 391AD, telling the story of Hypatia, a notable female mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and teacher. After Emperor Constantine declared Christianity legal, Alexandrian society was shaken to the core, with the political and religious machinations of Cyril, Pope of Alexandria, and Orestes, Prefect of the Diocese of Egypt, leading to a tragic climax.

Read the review of Agora in Sight and Sound here (you’ll need your library card number). Director Alejandro Amenábar was also responsible for The Others (2002), starring Nicole Kidman, and The Sea Inside (2005) with Javier Bardem.

The Library at Alexandria features in Library: an unquiet history, by Matthew Battles and also Libraries in the ancient world, by Lionel Casson

(Incidentally, the new library of Alexandria is an impressive building. Visit the website here, or have a look at the architecture here.)

If you would like to read more about Hypatia try these titles:
The book of dead philosophers, Simon Critchley
Doubt: a history: the great doubters and their legacy of innovation, from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson, Jennifer Michael Hecht

Search for books on the history of astronomy, and early Church history.

Hypatia is also the subject of the novel Hypatia: New Foes with an Old Face by Charles Kingsley, published in 1894. The library has a copy, or you can download it for free from Project Gutenberg here.