When Captain Cook and his crew sailed across the seas back in 1769, they were led by the night sky.
Not only were they searching for the 'great southern continent' and heading to Tahiti to view the Transit of Venus, but they also navigated by the stars.
Gary Bastin, curator of the Puke Ariki exhibition, Shadowing Venus: Pacific Adventures of Joseph Banks, says the Europeans aboard the HMS Endeavour used the heavens and a nautical almanac to pinpoint their positions.
On board, they also had the Tahitian high priest navigator, Tupaia. He too used the stars to navigate.
'But he used lots of other things as well,' Bastin says. 'He could judge currents, wave frequency and he was good at dead reckoning.'
That means Tupaia had the ability to remember land formations, so he knew what island was coming up next and next.
This Friday night, people can join a Shadowing Venus event, by visiting the New Plymouth Observatory.
On top of Marsland Hill, they will be using telescopes to view some of those same celestial sights Cook and Tupaia saw more than 240 years ago. From early on, Bastin says, people the world over have gazed at the night sky and named groups of stars.
'People of all cultures see images in them,' he says. 'Europeans see Pleiades, Maori see Matariki and the same constellation appears in the front of the Japanese car Subaru - that's its name.'
He says the heavens have long been star-studded maps for sailors.
'If you observe them at the same time of the year at the same time of night, you can use them as reference points.
"They became very significant in navigation,' Bastin says.
Back in the late 1700s, when Cook, the botanist Joseph Banks and others were exploring the southern seas, it was a significant time in human history.
'It was the age of enlightenment and people were trying to understand more about the Earth's position in the universe - that's why they were observing the Transit of Venus.'
On Friday night, people may have a chance to look through history, says New Plymouth Astronomical Society president Nick Gladstone. 'If it's clear, we will have our pride and joy, a six-inch refracting telescope, for people to look through,' he says.
'It was originally built in 1880 and the society bought it in 1919 with a few other astronomical pieces, for [PndStlg]165.'
As well as the Alvan Clark model, there will be a Newtonian reflecting telescope available to look through. Members of the society will be on hand to share their knowledge.
Among those will be one of New Zealand's leading amateur astronomers, Rodney Austin, who has found three comets - the 1982M1 (Austin), 1984N1 (Austin) and 1989X1 (Austin). The stargazing event runs from 7.30 to 9.30pm.
Shadowing Venus: Pacific Adventures of Joseph Banks is supported by the Taranaki Regional Council.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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