Kiwi Milky Way images named among world’s best in astrophotography competition


“Winter’s Airglow” – Southern Alps, New Zealand. Photo / Larryn Rae, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year

Stargazing might be the most universal of pastimes. At every point on the planet, since ancient times, people have been looking heavenwards for after dark. Looking for our place in the universe. If there’s one unifying cosmological landmark it would have to be the Milky Way.

In China it is referred to as the ‘Heavenly River’, in parts of Eastern Europe it is a ‘Pathway of the Birds’ and sub-Saharan Africa has names including the Backbone of the Sky. Although it has many names it’s a view out on our place in the Galaxy we all share. There is also only one Milky Way of the Year Awards.

Now in its sixth year, the specialist astrophotography award has had submissions from across six continents. Awards hosts Capture The Atlas has published 25 stellar images in their annual shortlist, showing details you’d never see with the bare eye.

Three of which were taken in New Zealand.


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New Plymouth-based Brendan Larsen found his perfect view of the milky way over the photogenic Mt Taranaki. Determined to get the perfect shot the camera was angled towards the maunga to align with the star belt at 2.30am.

“I’m really pleased with how many colours I was able to capture with my camera, filters, and long exposures,” said Larsen.

“Milky Way Rising over Stony River & Mt Taranaki” – 
Taranaki, New Zealand. Photo / Brendan Larsen, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year
“Milky Way Rising over Stony River & Mt Taranaki” –
Taranaki, New Zealand. Photo / Brendan Larsen, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year

Larryn Rae was another Kiwi photographer staying up late in the mountains for the perfect shot.

“This was some of the craziest airglow I have ever seen! Airglow is when atoms get charged and excited in the upper atmosphere by the sun and emit this wonderful colour and cloud-like pattern.” The veteran Auckland-based photographer had been shortlisted in previous years.


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Larryn wasn’t the only photographer to capture a night sky tinged with the Southern lights.

18-year-old Tom Rae was photographing the skies over Lake Tekapo when – to his delight – dancing lights formed on the horizon.

“Celestial Radiance” – 
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand. Photo / Tom Rae, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year
“Celestial Radiance” –
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand. Photo / Tom Rae, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year

“Midway through my Milky Way panorama, a faint glow appeared on the horizon—my first aurora! What followed was a spectacular light show of flowing beams and vibrant colours.” The young photographed described his “limited time photographing the night sky” has been both “awe inspiring”, if sometimes frustrating.

While the starry view of the Milky Way was a unifying theme judge Dan Zafra was looking for local landmarks and recognisable locations to ground the astral scenes.

Apart from New Zealand’s Southern Alps other earthly backdrops included Patagonian Chile’s Torres del Paine and the alien-looking bottle trees of Socotra – near Yemen.

“Modern cameras can capture vibrant details and colours in the night sky beyond what our eyes can see,” said Zafra. “However, what really matters in any great image is the photographer behind the camera, who provides the idea, plan, and creativity to bring the image to life.”

Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year
Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year

“Celestial Shield” – Ávila, Spain. Photo / Iván Ferrero, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year
“Celestial Shield” – Ávila, Spain. Photo / Iván Ferrero, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year

“The Night Train” - Graubünden, Switzerland. Photo / Alexander Forst, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year
“The Night Train” – Graubünden, Switzerland. Photo / Alexander Forst, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year


7 Reasons To Ignore The Hype About The ‘Green Comet’ (And Why You Need Binoculars)


So a “once in a lifetime” comet is “lighting up” or even “streaking across” the night sky. Yeah, really? So go outside and have a look. Can’t find it? No, you won’t. That’s because comet 2022 E3 (ZTF)—the so-called “green comet”—is indeed in the northern hemisphere’s night sky, but its faint photons are so faint that they’re not going to get anywhere near your eyes unless you have time, patience and … binoculars.

Even then, comet 2022 E3 (ZHF) will be just a smudge.

There are ways to see the best comet since 2020’s comet NEOWISE before it fizzles out in early February, but behind the wild clickbait headlines there are cold, hard truths about comet 2022 E3 (ZTF).

Here are seven things you need to know about the comet to better help you navigate the weird world of comet-hunting (and comet-hype):

1. Ignore the incredible photos on social media

Those photos that you see on social media and all over the web of comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) are taken using telescopes and cameras. Both of which are a lot more sensitive than the human eye. Astrophotography is largely done by taking multiple images of objects and stacking them together to increase contrast, brightness and color. In reality this comet is very faint—so far. It’s shining at a magnitude of about 6, which makes it visible to the naked eye only under extremely dark skies. In fact, the kind of dark skies that most people have never ever experienced. So you can forget all about seeing this, it with your naked eyes, particularly if you live in any kind of urban environment.

2. The hype has come too early

Despite comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) being incredibly faint, it does appear to be brightening, albeit more slowly than had been predicted. Currently on the cusp of naked eye visibility in dark skies, it is presently getting slightly closer to our planet as it exits the inner solar system. It will reach its closest point to Earth (at 26 million miles) on February 2, by which it’s just possible that it will be bright enough to see with the naked eye. However, that seems unlikely.

MORE FROM FORBESHave You Seen The ‘Green Comet’ Yet? The Inconvenient Truth Behind The Headlines

3. You need binoculars to glimpse the comet

Since you cannot see this comet with the naked eye you are going to need a pair of binoculars. Sure, you can also use a small telescope, but unless you have a motorized GoTo telescope that can be automatically pointed at its coordinates, binoculars are the way to go. A pair of 10×50 or 10×42, or similar, are perfect. The best way to find the comet this week is to locate the Big Dipper in the northern night sky—late at night when it’s on its side with its handle pointing down towards the horizon. Locate the final two stars in that handle, Mizar and Alkaid. Put your binoculars on the stars and range them left. Look around this area and, with some luck, you will find a comet. Be prepared to say something no amateur astronomer ever wants to hear from a non-stargazer—“is that it?” and wonder what all the unnecessary hype is for.

4. You’ll need sky-charts to find it

If those general directions don’t get you anywhere then you’re going to need to resort to sky charts. Sky and Telescope has some fantastic sky charts to help you manually find the comet while Sky Live has its coordinates to punch into a GoTo telescope. As you can see by looking at the sky charts, the comet is currently moving north as it brightens, soon passing the North Star, Polaris, as it heads towards Capella (Feb. 5), and then Mars (Feb. 10-12). That is went to start looking for comet 2022 E3 (ZTF)!

5. It looks like a tiny smudge

Is it worth you spending a lot of time outside in freezing cold temperatures looking for this comet? If you have high expectations, then no, it is not. If you do manage to get eyes-on with the comet through a pair of binoculars or using a small telescope then probably your best view will be of a rather faint smudge of light. Sure, it will look different to a star, open cluster or galaxy, but it’s probably not going to impress you. That is, unless you are an amateur astronomer with all the gear, bags of time and patience, and a desire to see distant cosmic visitors with your own eyes.

MORE FROM FORBESWhen And Where To See The New ‘Comet Of The Year’ At Its Best

6. Saying ‘green comet’ is like saying ‘black and white zebra’

Yes, photographs of comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) do show it to be green. Comets have a nucleus and a coma, the latter being a cloud of gas the envelopes the nucleus. It’s the coma that’s green and that’s typical for comets. So the “green comet” name is a bit like saying “black and white zebra.” Besides, you won’t see anything green if you get eyes-on with comet 2022 E3 (ZTF). Just black and white.

7. Ignore the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ and ‘last chance to see’ claims

Headline writers are being extremely economical with language in promoting this comment. It’s not a lie to say that comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) was last in the Earth’s night sky during the Stone Age nor is it inaccurate to state that this is our last chance to see it. However, that applies to almost all comets! Sure, 50,000 years is a long period comet, but it’s no more “last chance” that anything else unique that happens.

Why to ignore the hype about comet 2022 E3 (ZHF)

The upshot is this: if you are a casual stargazer who only wants to see the very best and brightest objects and events in the night sky, then forget almost everything you have read about comet 2022 E3 (ZTF). Wait until early February when comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) might—just might—be bright enough to see naked-eye. Right now it’s too early for most people to go looking for a faint smudge in the northern sky.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.


The New ‘Smart Telescope’ That Lets You Stay Indoors While It Shows You Spectacular Images


It’s a telescope, but not as we know it. Meet the eVscope eQuinox 2, a new so-called “smart telescope” unveiled this week at CES in Las Vegas that adds planets to the roster of what it can image in the night sky.

The annual tech show is mostly known for huge TVs, drones and electric cars, so what is a diminutive telescope doing in the halls of the Sands Hotel?

The eVscope eQuinox 2 is not like most telescopes you will have seen before, probably gathering dust in a friend’s spare bedroom. The eVscope eQuinox 2 has no eyepiece. You cannot look at the night sky through this telescope. Instead of your own eyes collecting the light from distant galaxies, nebula and star clusters those photons go directly to a Sony IMX347 sensor.

The eVscope eQuinox 2 is all about astrophotography, not stargazing—and you can sit indoors while it does its thing and just wait for its images to be delivered to your smartphone.

It’s modelled by French company Unistellar on professional telescopes that are found the world over, usually on mountain tops, which collect light using the giant mirrors before focusing those photos on an image sensor. Hey presto, you get image date of galaxies and anything else astronomers care to point these behemoths at. This is also essentially how space telescopes like Hubble and Webb work.

The follow-up to 2021’s eVscope eQuinox, this second-generation version is not like those professional telescopes, but it is way more slick. A 4.5-inch/114mm reflector telescope with a focal length of 450mm, focal ratio of f/4 and 50x magnification, the eVscope eQuinox 2 weighs 9kg, has a motorized alt-azimuth mount, an 11-hour rechargeable battery and 64GB of storage. It produces 6.2 megapixel images in JPEG or RAW formats. They’re easy to share and easy to post-process, if that’s your thing, but the whole point of the eVscope eQuinox 2 is that it’s autonomous.

You literally just put this smart telescope in your backyard—or even on your balcony in a light-polluted environment—and it gets to work plate-solving, comparing the stars it can see in the sky with a database on its on-board computer. Within a few minutes it’s ready to use.

Using an smartphone app it’s possible to choose from a list of deep sky targets you want the eVscope eQuinox 2 to observe. Each object in its database comes with baked-in settings for exposure times and ISO, so all you really have to do is wait (though you can tinker with the settings if you want).

In fact, you can actually leave the telescope outside and go sit indoors because the live image it produces is shown on the app and continually refreshed. It depends on what you are looking at, but for faint objects such as nebulae, the longer you leave the telescope staring at it, the better the finished image will be. That’s because it’s taking an image every 30 seconds or so, and stacking it on top of the last one, thus producing a cleaner and brighter image as time passes. It’s these algorithms and machine learning that are the secret sauce inside the eVscope eQuinox 2.

I’ve used the original eVscope eQuinox extensively—adoring it mostly for its skill at completely bypassing light pollution—and this new version looks interesting. At $2,499 it’s the company’s most affordable model yet. It now has a new sensor and a slightly wider field of view (34×47 arc minutes). The latter means it can fit larger objects into its field of view, chiefly the Andromeda galaxy and the Moon (though until a firmware update arrives it won’t be primed to take images of our only natural satellite).

However, what’s really interesting about the eVscope eQuinox 2 is a much-anticipated new ability to study and image planets. In stark contrast to the long exposure images it uses to find objects, the incredibly bright orbs of Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are snapped using something called “lucky imaging”. Another technique used by huge ground-based telescopes, this is when astrophotographers continually snap away at an object in the night sky hoping that Earth’s turbulent atmosphere will, just for a split second, settle enough for them for the image to be perfectly exposed, sharp and without any distortion.

“The eQuinox 2 smart telescope puts incredible power in the hands of the general public and inspires a new generation of urban stargazers who can now enjoy an amazing voyage to the universe from their balcony and within minutes. Thanks to its unique technologies and its smart design choices, we are putting space within reach from anywhere, even from light-polluted cities,” said Laurent Marfisi, co-founder and CEO of Unistellar. “Now, novice stargazers and amateur astronomers can enjoy stunning clarity, color, and hard to see details like the striking colors of the Dumbbell Nebula.”

The Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 can be pre-ordered now, with shipping expected from mid-February 2023.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes


Summer travel: NZ’s best places for stargazing and sleeping under the stars


Suspended high over Lake Wakatipu, Jagged Edge is just a 10-minute drive from Queenstown. Photo / Supplied

Balmy temperatures and no work to get up early for the next morning are the perfect combination for sleeping under the stars. Here are some of the best places in New Zealand to marvel at the night sky.


Aotea Great Barrier Island

Good Heavens offers cosy and light-hearted experiences for small groups, with “moon chairs”, hot drinks and blankets. Suitable for all ages, a guide uses a laser pointer to identify constellations, everyone has binoculars to gaze at middle-distance objects and an 8-inch telescope allows a closer view of faraway stars and planets. Great Barrier and Stewart Island (see below) are two of the world’s 15 Dark Sky Sanctuaries.

Good Heavens will guide you through our solar system from a beach on the Dark Sky Sanctuary, Aotea Great Barrier Island. Photo / Carmen Bird
Good Heavens will guide you through our solar system from a beach on the Dark Sky Sanctuary, Aotea Great Barrier Island. Photo / Carmen Bird

The Coromandel


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Stargazers Lodge guests and visitors can book a night-sky tour of the observatory and planetarium in the light pollution-free zone overlooking Kuaotunu. Its solar-powered, rotating-dome observatory houses a research-grade set-up, perfect for the astro-curious and photographers.


Just an hour north of Wellington, Wairarapa wants to become the world’s largest and most accessible dark sky destination. Here you’ll find Stonehenge Aotearoa, built on the same scale as some other place on Salisbury Plain in England.


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It’s not a folly. Open-air, hands-on Stonehenge Aotearoa is a modern observatory connecting people with the sky and cycles of nature, covering solstices, equinoxes, Matariki, ancient Egyptian, Babylonian and Indus Valley astronomy, Polynesian navigation, as well as Celtic and Māori lore.

Under the Stars runs bespoke events for schools or house parties, and every weekend, Star Safari opens the universe with powerful telescopes, planetarium tours and space science communicators. It’s a social enterprise from Milky-Way.Kiwi, an online platform for space and astronomy news with a New Zealand flavour.


At 4367sq km, Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is a master of the universe, covering Aoraki Mt Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin, the townships of Tekapo, Twizel and Mt Cook. This rugged, isolated land, dominated by large sheep stations for more than a century, has some of the world’s clearest, most spectacular night skies.

As well as a great camping spot, Lake Tekapo is in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, making it one of the best spots in the world for stargazing. Photo / Miles Holden
As well as a great camping spot, Lake Tekapo is in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, making it one of the best spots in the world for stargazing. Photo / Miles Holden

Scientifically, it’s important because it protects the University of Canterbury’s astronomy research at Mt John Observatory.


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A world leader in astro-tourism, there’s no end of inventive ideas here.

Alpha CruX provides private astronomy tours and astrophotography lessons throughout the region.

Big Sky Stargazing’s tour uses the naked eye, astro-binoculars and state-of-the-art telescopes, delivered from an outdoor viewing platform or, if the weather’s unkind, New Zealand’s first 360-degree digital Dome Planetarium at the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre in Mt Cook Village.

Here, science meets entertainment. Families “leave Earth, fly to the edge of our galaxy and far beyond to the reaches of our known universe” and get home in time for supper.

Chameleon Stargazing is a more budget and family-friendly tour in a near-zero light pollution location in Tekapo (with hot chocolate and a fire bowl with roasted marshmallows).

Ngāi Tahu Tourism’s Dark Sky Project is the best-known experience. Its observatory tours are boosted with explanations of Māori navigation, planting, significance of lunar cycles and observations.


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West Coast

It’s fair to stay the West Coast’s skies are stunning on a clear night. Paparoa Nature Tours in Punakaiki take guests to explore the Milky Way and southern constellations through a computerised 260mm telescope while being serenaded by great spotted kiwi, morepork and weka from nearby rainforest.


A Starry Nights Queenstown photography tour with astro-photographer Simon Williams includes a trip around spectacular Whakatipu Basin locations in a Land Rover, a professionally curated photo session and tips on shooting stars.

Dark skies, southern lights - Rakiura Stewart Island is now a sanctuary for stargazing. Photo / Supplied
Dark skies, southern lights – Rakiura Stewart Island is now a sanctuary for stargazing. Photo / Supplied

Rakiura Stewart Island

A Unihedron Sky Quality Meter reading of 16 indicates a light-polluted city and 21 a very dark sky. Stewart Island’s readings have ranged between 21.51-21.93 since 2017. Twinkle Dark Sky Tours are one of several local operators helping you see everything from craters on the Moon to the centre of the galaxy.


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These luxury cabins can now be found in nine locations, stretching from Banks Peninsula to the newest on Rakiura Stewart Island. Each off-grid cabin has uninterrupted views of the night sky, but you don’t have to worry about people looking in — they’re all in secluded spots far from light pollution, with the exact location revealed only after you book.

Night skies over the Manakau Purepod at Kaikōura. Photo / Supplied
Night skies over the Manakau Purepod at Kaikōura. Photo / Supplied

Galaxy Boutique Hotel

Tekapo’s Galaxy Boutique Hotel is a traditional hotel with some stand-out features — namely, large splayed skylights that allow views of the mountains and night sky beyond. Make sure to nab a room on the upper floor for the best seat in the house.

Skylark Cabin

Hidden in the foothills of the Ben Ohau range is Skylark Cabin, which quietly opened in 2020, yet is the type of place that visitors can’t stop talking about. Designed by award-winning architect Barry Connor, it boasts a huge circular window directly over the bed, positioned so guests can spend a night under the stars. An outdoor stainless steel bathtub with gas-heated hot water can also be found on the property, making it possible to soak while you soak it all in.


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Wai Dome O, Waikato

Wai Dome O (a play on “Waitomo”) is one of Canopy Camping’s properties — and it’s only a few minutes away from Waikato’s famous glowworm caves.

The geodesic dome is positioned at the top of a steep hill with views over rolling farmland, meaning it’s in a prime position for stargazing. But if you want to be even more immersed in the landscape, it also has an outdoor tub.

Nightsky Cottage

Side-by-side soaker tubs at Horopito’s award-winning Nightsky Cottage are positioned to look out a large window. The aptly named two-bedroom cottage also has skylights, so you can find constellations without stepping outside. But if you’re keen to get outdoors, there’s a clearing just 50 metres from the cottage, where you can watch the sun go down over Mt Ruaephu.

Jagged Edge


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Suspended high over Lake Wakatipu, the ultra-modern Jagged Edge is all sharp lines, softened by its use of floor-to-ceiling glass. The glass walls jut out from the base at an 18-degree angle rising to over 9 metres, resulting in 270-degree views of the night sky in each of the luxury retreat’s three bedrooms. But that’s not the end of your stargazing options. There’s also a heated infinity pool hanging over the lake, alongside numerous outdoor seating areas. It’s just a 10-minute drive from Queenstown.

This is an amended version of previously published stories by Ewan McDonald and Jessica Wynne Lockhart from Herald Travel. For more great travel inspiration, go to


Tinian ‘Astro Dad’ captures the magic of the night sky | Lifestyle


Tinian’s skies are an astronomy lovers’ dream. With the island’s absence of light pollution, the night sky lights up with constellations and glimpses of majestic beauty.

Since 2020, astrophotographer Joshua Brazzle has refined the art of capturing photos of space.

Tinian "Astro Dad" captures the magic of the night sky

Joshua Brazzle is shown with his wife, Mary Hocog-Brazzle, and their daughter, Ke’alohi Lani Brazzle.

Brazzle had been interested in astronomy since childhood, but he took his passion to the next level after stumbling upon YouTube videos about astrophotography, which morphed into his lockdown hobby when the pandemic prompted the community to stick closer to home.

To create his photographs, Brazzle uses an Orion 8-inch Newtonian reflector telescope, and sky view pro-mount using a DSLR camera.

The mount “tracks the rotation of Earth once you switch it on,” Brazzle explained.

Using the DSLR camera, which is screwed on to the telescope’s eyepiece, Brazzle takes numerous photos.

“So what you’re doing is pretty much taking faint light, that’s millions of light years away, and then you have to take so many exposures,” he said.