Community and Education news

Image: NASA
18 December 2019

Cawthron’s Atkinson Telescope on public display in Nelson this summer

Cawthron’s Atkinson Cooke telescope is set to be part of Nelson Provincial Museum’s ‘Our Moon’ exhibition, which launches this week in time for the busy summer period. This special telescope was in service for well over 100 years and has recorded important moments in astronomical history.

The museum’s exhibition Our Moon: Then, Now & Beyond, is presented in partnership with Cawthron, alongside Rātā Foundation and the Embassy of the United States of America.

Cawthron’s involvement in the exhibition is thanks to Nelson philanthropist Thomas Cawthron, whose last will and testament resulted in the establishment of the Cawthron Institute in 1921. Thomas Cawthron was also a keen astronomer who spent many nights star gazing with friends, including Arthur Atkinson who imported a five-inch refractory telescope made by Thomas Cooke and Sons. This telescope was used to observe a rare solar eclipse in 1885.

Atkinson and his party with the Browning telescope (after Venus' transit in 1882).

The Atkinson Cooke telescope was based at Fairfield House for two decades and used for many astronomical observations. When Atkinson died, the telescope was looked after by the Nelson Institute (subsequently the Museum and the Library) and then in 1934, ownership was transferred to the Cawthron Institute Trust Board who placed it in the care of the Astronomy Section of the Nelson Science Society.

The telescope has been housed in several locations around Nelson since then –Alton Street, Emano Street and Pipers Park – and most recently in the Cawthron Atkinson Observatory at Clifton Terrace School. Last year the Nelson Science Society purchased a new telescope and returned the Atkinson telescope to the Institute.

Cawthron is thrilled to be able to offer the Atkinson telescope as part of the Nelson Provincial Museum’s exhibition, which presents the story of our relationship with the Moon, past, present and future. As well as the Atkinson Cooke Telescope, the exhibition features British artist Luke Jerram’s MOON installation – a glowing, four-metre diameter orb wrapped in high-definition NASA lunar surface. A hands-on, mechanical interactive describing the Moon's orbit around the Earth and a “build-your-own-lunar-habitation” station which looks to the future are also on display.

The exhibition is on from 20 December 2019 until 19 April 2020 at the Nelson Provincial Museum, 270 Trafalgar Street, Nelson. Read more here.