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Gisborne has an intergalactic designer in its midst.

In a national design competition for the space project for Otago Museum, Maikel Terekia came out on top — and he’s only 13 years old.

Last week the museum launched the Solar Tsunami Project where researchers explore how a solar tsunami — a large-scale solar corona shock wave generated by solar flares — might impact New Zealand.

Professor Craig Rodger from the University of Otago leads the programme, which just received over $15 million for a five-year research project to develop space-weather prediction and risk mitigation measures for New Zealand’s energy infrastructure.

As part of the museum’s engagement approach, they organised a national logo competition for te kura kaupapa and wharekura in April.

With over 22,391 students in Maori immersion education as of 2020, Maikel, a student from Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Horouta Wananga, located down Desmond Road, produced the winning design.

On top of having his design on a multimillion-dollar project, Maikel was flown to Christchurch and spent two days at Maui Studios, a creative agency specialising in design.

He finalised his design at the studio, learned about a career in digital media, and received a solar telescope for his school.

“The red, black and white colour scheme of the design represents our tino rangatiratanga in New Zealand,” Maikel told Te Ao News.

“The mangopare (hammerhead shark design) covering Aotearoa represents the hononga (connection) between Tamanuitera and Papatuanuku.

“Last but not least the tapatoru (triangles) that are surrounding my logo represent our purakau (stories) that we can use to whakaahuru our people if there were to be an upcoming solar tsunami.”

Some context is needed to understand why these solar tsunami are worth taking seriously.

In early September 1859, while much of the world’s population was in darkness, the sky above was suddenly illuminated with a brilliant light.

Luminous waves rolled up in quick succession

In The Times London a journalist wrote, “The whole of the northern hemisphere was as light as though the sun had set an hour before, and luminous waves rolled up in quick succession as far as the zenith, some a brilliancy sufficient to cast a perceptible shadow on the ground.”

The light was so bright that Londoners could read a newspaper without a lamp at midnight.

Across the pond, New Yorkers thought a fire was burning through the city, with raging flames lighting the sky above.

In the Rocky Mountains on the American east coast, the world became so bright gold miners woke up and started preparing breakfast.

Instead of a sunrise or city-wide fire, a powerful geomagnetic storm hit the world after a massive release of plasma on the sun sent a magnetic field towards Earth.

The solar flare had an estimated energy equivalent of 10 billion atomic bombs.

The storm is now known as the Carrington Event, named after Richard Carrington, one of the astronomers who recorded the earliest observations.

The launch of the Solar Tsunami Project marked the September anniversary of the Carrington Event.

But it wasn’t just curls of colour brightening the sky. A geomagnetic storm can wreak havoc on electrical technology.

In 1859 telegraph operators received electric shocks and paper nearby was said to have caught fire.

The storm took out telegraph systems across the globe, causing the technology all over to fail.

Thankfully for the economy, health and safety and life in general, the world in 1859 had very little technology vulnerable to geomagnetic storms.

Today the situation is wildly different — everything from pacemakers to aeroplanes are reliant on electrical tech.

Researchers at the Otago Museum are looking at how New Zealand might be affected if the country was hit and how companies and the Government might minimise the disruptions to the electrical grid.

Research has been done in places like the US to understand the future impacts, but geomagnetism doesn’t follow geography.

Which makes Maikel’s logo representing Tamanuitera (the Sun) both embracing and engulfing Papatuanuku (the earth mother) so striking — a warning of the power inside the Sun.

“Maikel is so talented and we loved his design,” Otago Museum’s Maori science engagement coordinator, Toni Hoeta, told Te Ao News.

“I hope this will be the start of his design career. It is a perfect way to represent what we are doing to New Zealand and the world.”

INTERGALACTIC: Maikel Terekia from Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Horouta Wananga visiting Maui Studios after winning a nationwide design competition run by Otago Museum. Picture supplied
THE SUN AND EARTH: Maikel’s winning design aptly makes use of representations of Tamanuitera (the Sun) embracing and engulfing Papatuanuku (the earth mother) for the space programme.