Saturday, 11 July 2020


Mercury Rising project internships for two MBAS students

Mercury Bay Area School students Petra Fisher and Nikita Russell have recently been notified that they both have been awarded an Otago Museum Tuia 250 Lotteries-funded Mercury Rising project internship. Ten other students from around New Zealand have also received internships.

The Mercury Rising project was developed by Otago Museum as part of this year’s commemoration events marking 250 years since Captain James Cook and astronomer Charles Green observed a transit of Mercury across the sun at the Purangi Estuary in 1769. A transit will occur once again in November this year. 

The 12 internship recipients will spend from Friday 2 August to Monday 5 August at the Mount John Observatory in Tekapo. During this time, the Mercury Rising project coordinators, Dr Ian Griffin and Alysha Painter from Otago Museum, will assist the students in learning how to use the observatory’s telescopes and how to take, process and interpret images of the planets, moon and deep space objects. The students will also be given the opportunity to engage in science communication about the project via Otago Museum’s social media channels.

“We’re delighted that Petra and Nikita have been selected as recipients of the internship,” says MBAS principal, John Wright. “These young women are dedicated and enthusiastic scientists. They’re hard-working and curious, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them engage with this field of science in the future. We look forward to hearing about their experiences.”

To be chosen for the internship, students had to be nominated by a teacher and also had to express an interest in the opportunity. A Skype interview was then held with the project coordinators.

“It’s exciting to know that I’m going to be learning about topics that I haven’t had much exposure to before,” says Nikita. “I’m most looking forward to being able to share this new experience with other people who are just as interested in science as I am.” 

Petra is also looking forward to the experience. “The Mount John Observatory is a world-class facility with equipment that’s genuinely used for astronomical field research, as well as stargazing,” she says. “I’m particularly interested in learning how to operate the telescopes and gaining as much knowledge about astronomy as I can. Hopefully we have clear nights and a great view of the sky.”

Otago Museum is also planning Mercury Rising project events in Mercury Bay.

On Friday 9 November and Saturday 10 November, the museum’s “Lab in a Box” mobile science lab will be situated at the Mercury Bay Museum in Whitianga. A range of astronomical information will be showcased, including the science behind a transit of Mercury and the importance of the transit in 1769 to Captain James Cook .

The Lab in a Box will be moved to Cooks Beach on Monday 11 November to prepare for a public viewing of this year’s transit of Mercury. A “stargazing party” will be held during the night leading up to the transit, which school students are encouraged to participate in. Telescopes will be available and science experts from Otago Museum will be on hand to teach the public how to use the telescopes.

The transit will be in progress as the sun rises on Tuesday 12 November. Ten solar telescopes will be available for the public to view the transit with. A live stream of the transit will also be available.

“We hope to use this year’s transit of Mercury as an opportunity to look back on how New Zealand has changed in the last 250 years and to start thinking about what we want New Zealand to be 250 years from now,” says Alysha Painter.

Pictured: Mercury Bay Area School students Petra Fisher (left) and Nikita Russell have each been awarded an Otago Museum Tuia 250 Lotteries-funded Mercury Rising project internship. 


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