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National honour for long-time Gisborne astronomer

PHOTOGRAPHING stars and tracking comets has long been a hobby of Gisborne man John Drummond, who has become a national leader in astronomy.

The Campion College teacher and Brainwaves tutor was made president of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand at the RASNZ 2016 conference in Napier last month.

During the same month, the amateur astronomer graduated with a Master of Science degree in astronomy by course work from Melbourne’s Swinburne University.

“John is the sort of person not to boast of his achievements, but personally I feel the public should be informed that we have a scholar and a gentleman among us,” said Roger Bodle, vice-president of the Gisborne Astronomical Society.

Mr Drummond has been involved in amateur astronomy since he joined GAS as a junior about 40 years ago. He is president of the society.

Astrophotography and cometographyHis interests range from photographing asteroids (astrophotography) to observing and describing comets (cometography).

“We can work out in which direction a comet is moving and if it’s going to make a direct hit,” he said of his cometography work.

Mr Drummond said New Zealand astronomers have a unique ability to monitor a large expanse of space over the Pacific Ocean that is not viewable from many land masses.

Due to this unique viewing platform, his work is often sought by overseas institutes such as The Ohio State University and NASA.

Much of his astronomy work today is carried out at his “Possum Observatory” at Pututahi.

“The most serendipitous moment was discovering a new asteroid while following another,” said Mr Drummond of his 40-year amateur career.

New Zealand is reported to have more amateur astronomers per capita than any other nation. He attributes the popularity of amateur astronomy to the country’s low pollution, which allows for better observation conditions.

However, he also notes that the nation’s unique geographical position, being the most eastern position for space observations, gives New Zealanders a relatively unrivalled opportunity to observe space events.

“We can see things before anyone else. We see right into the solar system because of our Southern Hemisphere position.”

Former Gisborne museum director Professor Wayne Orchiston says New Zealand can boast a number of international-level astrophotographers, one of the most accomplished being Gisborne’s own John Drummond, pictured on Kaiti Hill in front of the observatory, which is closed because it needs earthquake strengthening. Professor Orchiston’s lecture in Gisborne next week will include the achievements of pioneer astrophotographers such as John Grigg. Picture by Paul Rickard