High school students investigate the stars with UC Science

High school students explore the University of Canterbury and Mount John Observatory as part of Elaine P. Snowden Astronomy School.


Between 18 and 23 April, 20 high school students from around New Zealand attended the Elaine P. Snowden Astronomy School (EPS) 2021. Over the course of the week, attendees experienced life as a UC student and had an opportunity to star gaze at the University of Canterbury’s Mt John Ōtehīwai Observatory.

The aim of this school is to inspire and drive a passion for astronomy and see more students entering astronomy pathways.

The students all enjoyed the experience, with one student commenting that

I was surprised about how immersive the whole experience was. I felt taken care of and I enjoyed the company of the staff and students. This opportunity has given me a new perspective and opened many pathways to my future”.

The experiences

Christchurch and UC Ilam campus

The camp kicked off with an outdoor “Escape Room” run by Codebreakers in Christchurch’s city centre. Attendees had an opportunity to get to know one another during the challenge, see the rejuvenated city, and grab some local fare at the Riverside Market.

Living like UC students meant staying in the Rochester and Rutherford halls of residence and attending a range of lectures on astronomy and theoretical physics and hanging with one of UCs many clubs. The Christchurch chapter of the New Zealand Student Space Association (NZSSA) entertained the students on the second night by creating fun quiz night to flex the brain muscles.

Takapō | Tekapo and observing at Mt John Ōtehīwai Observatory

Situated in Canterbury’s Dark Sky reserve, Tekapo village is the location for UC Mount John Ōtehīwai Observatory. The facility boasts 4 telescopes include the 1 Metre MOA telescope and a range of other detectors and instruments used for viewing the stars.

The attendees had the fantastic opportunity to learn more about the “nuts and bolts” of the equipment, the theories and the reasons for making observations. The second evening boasted good weather and the students had a brilliant observation session. They spent their evening hunting for interesting objects that were assigned to them and doing a tour of the moon! Astrophotographer and UC technician Frazer Gunn was provided sessions on astro photography and editing. This was a great time to have some fun with red LED torches.

Aoraki | Mount Cook

The trip to Aoraki/Mount Cook presented a good opportunity for attendees to see the amazing Alps and to take a break from lectures. Incredible weather made for many photo opportunities as students learned about the geomorphology of the region – a topic that connects well with planetary astronomy.

Dark Sky Project Experience

Dark Sky Project are leaders in astro-tourism and we had the chance to take part in their astronomical journey based in Tekapo Village. Students learnt about the bicultural aspects of astronomy, how ancient Māori knowledge and modern science are linked.

One student said they found it

“Interesting getting to know how Maori and indigenous culture is intertwined with our understanding of the universe, this was appealing to me especially, being someone from the pacific islands.”

The Elaine P. Snowden Astronomy camp would not be possible if not for our donor Michael Snowden. Michael established the AURORA Astronomy School in 2002 and renamed it Elaine P. Snowden in memory of his mother in 2017. His donation makes it possible for us to inspire the next generation of star gazers to look to the stars for their future. This generous donor also provides a scholarship for school leavers wishing to study astronomy. Hear more from Michael Snowden here.

To read more about the EPS school and to keep updated with upcoming events head to the UC Science Outreach page.