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Southern Nights by Naomi Arnold

From aurora to eclipses, comets to constellations, Southern Nights is the glorious story of the night sky above Aotearoa.


Astronomy has always held a special place in our history. This book explores what is special about our southern night skies, which have only been explored very recently compared to those in the northern hemisphere.


The book weaves together the many stories of astronomy in New Zealand - the scientific, social, and cultural stories.


Author Naomi Arnold discusses different stars, constellations, celestial objects and phenomenon within the pages. She states that she particularly loves working on stories about human connections with the natural world. Southern Nights is a great example of this. It is an expansive book, taking explaining Polynesian celestial navigation, as well as Māori astronomy, or tātai arorangi, as well as viewpoint from colonists too. In one chapter, The Stars Down Under, Arnold provides a comprehensive list of what we might see while star-gazing. As well as the English names, she helpfully includes more scientific names, as well as kupu Māori. The descriptions of each include te ao Māori perspectives too.


Other interesting topics covered in the book include New Zealand's modern astronomy links - Rocket Lab, Stonehenge Aotearoa, the resurgence of Matariki, and the University of Canterbury's Mount John Observatory. A chapter on Our Lady Astronomers is also a lovely touch.


The book features the most stunning full-colour photographs. While some double spreads unfortunately put the focal point in the margin, the photographs will inspire readers to head outside and star-gaze, and maybe even pick up a camera too.

For what can be a quite technical topic, Arnold makes sure readers have a solid understanding. Simple graphics and explanations make complex aspects of astronomy easy to grasp.


Arnold also argues for dark-sky conservation. She even includes a Bortle dark-sky scale in the book to help readers assess how much light pollution there is where they live.


Her incredibly well-researched work speaks volumes about why this type of conservation is so important. Arnold demands we start paying attention to the night sky, to understand how we are connected to it, and why it is such a taonga.


Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

HarperCollins Publishers, RRP $65.

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