Carter Observatory is the gazetted National Observatory of New Zealand, and opened in 1941 December. From the start, the main function of the Observatory was to provide for the astronomical needs of the citizens of, and visitors to, the Wellington region, and today this remains one of its four recognised functions (Orchiston and Dodd, 1995). The other three are to conduct astronomical research of international significance; provide a national astronomy education service for school students, teachers, and trainee teachers; and assist in the preservation of New Zealand's astronomical heritage.
Since 1992 the Carter Observatory has undergone major restructuring as a result of acquiring an aging Zeiss planetarium and an accompanying visitor centre (Van Dijk, 1992), and in response to major changes in Government funding policy. As a result, there has been a wholesale revamp of the education and public astronomy functions (see Orchiston, 1995b; Orchiston and Dodd, 1996). This paper focuses on the latter area, with emphasis on development of the Visitor Centre and the publications program.
The Visitor Center
The focal point of the Observatory's in-house public astronomy programs is the Visitor Centre, comprising a foyer area with “Space Shop”, the planetarium chamber, an audiovisual theatre (that also doubles as a meeting room), a small video room which also houses a public-access PC (featuring the “Orbits”program), and the “Dome Room”where the Observatory's historically-significant 23cm Cook photovisual refractor (see Andrews and Budding, 1992; Orchiston et al., 1995) holds pride of place. There are also the mandatory wheelchair-access toilets, and adjacent to the theatre is a small kitchen.