One of the world's most advanced telescopes in Christchurch on special mission

One of the world's most advanced telescopes has spent the last month in Christchurch as part of a special mission.

SOFIA, or the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is an observatory sitting at 40,000 feet as part of a German and US effort to better understand the depths of our universe.

David McAllister, SOFIA's deputy program manager, says the telescope must be "as high as possible, above the atmosphere so we can observe in infrared".

Housed inside a heavily-modified 747 aircraft, the 15-tonne telescope lets scientists from NASA and the German aerospace centre take a peek into neighbouring galaxies.

"We're looking beyond our galaxy and it's telling us a lot about our galaxy," Mr McAllister said. 

"Most of what we're looking at is how these stars form and how they die and what happens in between."

SOFIA could also help map the lifecycle of our own star.

"Our galaxy is a little older and we can look at galaxies far away where new things are happening, stars are forming and stars are dying."

At 40,000 feet, SOFIA more than doubles the height of any other observatory, meaning there is far less interference when looking to the stars.

"The conditions at the altitude are just perfect down here in the southern hemisphere. It allows us to really capture targets that we can't see in the northern hemisphere."

The Sofia telescope is part of a German and American effort to better understand the depths of our universe. Source: 1 NEWS

Nelson retirees choosing to give their winter energy payment to those in need - 'An amazing thing'

Pensioners in Nelson are choosing to give away winter payments received from the government to charity.

From July, superannuitants are entitled to additional payments to help heat their homes.

So far, more than 1700 people have chosen to opt out of the scheme, but donators say they would rather see it used for the purpose it was originally given.

"Most of us in the group are in a really fortunate position of actually not needing the extra payments for winter and yet, at the same time, we recognise that a lot of people do need them," explains Community Action Nelson coordinator Susan Hawthorne.

Ms Hawthorne is one of several members of the volunteer group who are donating the extra money to charity instead.

They've chosen two local charities which help support families struggling in the colder month - Nelson Budget Service and the Fifeshire Foundation.

"People can apply to them, so there doesn't have to be any direct connection between the givers and the receivers," she said.

According to Statistics New Zealand's 2017 figures, over 44,000 pensioners are in the country's top personal income bracket, earning more than $93,000 a year.

Based on individual winter payments, the group could collectively have an extra $11.5 millon this year.

"That's an astounding amount of money, and what a difference that could make."

Ms Hawthorne says she does not want to see winter payment means tested in the future, but hopes the actions of Community Action Nelson will catch on in other regions.

Nelson mother Paula Trainor says the donations could make all the difference for her family this winter.

For the past three days, Ms Trainor has had to keep her heat pump running 24/7.

Her daughter has chronic lung disease "so she really needs to keep warm and she gets sick really easily," Ms Trainor said.

She thinks the pensioners' decision is "amazing" and hopes to one day "pay it forward".

"If I could donate my money to someone else, I really would but I'm not in the space to do it, so for them to do it is an amazing thing."

Don't opt out, pass it on, is the advice a group of retired community workers are giving. Source: 1 NEWS


Safety warnings issued as storm forecast to batter Auckland this weekend

Vector outage crews are on standby to respond to any damage in Auckland, as heavy rain and strong winds are expected to slam into the region overnight tonight and tomorrow.

MetService has forecast a low pressure system from the north, bringing heavy rain and severe gales to the region.

Vector Chief Network Officer Andre Botha is warning members of the public to look out for potential hazards caused by the stormy weather.

"Trees coming into contact with lines and cars colliding with power poles in the wet are both possibilities when the worst of the weather reaches Auckland, particularly on the east coast and Waiheke Island," Mr Botha said.

"People should put garden furniture and trampolines away, as well as any loose material around the garden such as tarpaulins, as these all have the potential to be hazardous during the storm."

Vector has also rostered on extra response crews as a precaution.

"During a power outage, please remember that the safety of the public and Vector's contracting field staff is of primary importance at all times.

"And most importantly, please, always treat downed lines as live and stay well clear," Mr Botha said.

Members of the public using medical equipment which relies on electricity should ensure they are prepared for power disruptions, the power lines company said.

If there is an immediate health threat, contact your health provider or call 111.

During the storm, Vector is advising people to:

• Stay well clear of fallen power lines or damaged electrical equipment and treat them as live at all times

• Watch out for falling tree branches as these can cause damage to power lines

• Avoid possible damage to electrical appliances (in the unlikely event there is a power surge when the power is restored) by switching off appliances at the wall

• Keep a torch and spare batteries handy and ensure that you have at least one telephone that does not rely on electricity for operation

• Ensure that an alternate fuel is always available for cooking (e.g. gas for BBQ)

A graphic showing the likelihood of storm surge in the early hours of Sunday morning.
A graphic showing the likelihood of storm surge in the early hours of Sunday morning. Source: NIWA