In the winter evenings, Naomi Arnold would take her dog out the back of their Nelson home to put out the compost. She would then look up at the sky and find comfort.
The journalist and writer was working on three books at the time – one about the Nelson Tasman Hospice, one about anxiety and one about New Zealand’s southern sky.
It was a stressful collision of projects, spanning life and death and mental health, but she found herself looking up at the sky and watching the flow of the universe.
While working on Southern Nights, she had a newfound appreciation of the stars above us and our place within it all.
She would watch the constellation Scorpius rise and fall through those months and gain some new perspective on life.
“It was having this sense that the planet is tilting and turning, and time is passing, and we are just on this rocky planet hurtling through space. It was comforting that everything will keep on going without us and also that we are all connected under this same ceiling. That is the only thing that doesn’t change.”
Southern Nights is the result of what Naomi describes as one of the most challenging projects of her career.
She is not a scientist, or an astronomer. When she began the book, she hardly knew anything about our constellations. But the more she researched the more excited she was.
“I just started reading all the books in the library and learned all about New Zealand’s astronomical history.”
The result is likely the most comprehensive book about our night sky – blending science, history and culture into a definitive read that celebrates eclipses, aurorae, comets and constellations, backyard observatories, traditional stargazers and world-class astrophotographers.
“We are positioned in a really interesting and important place for all the global monitoring systems around the world,” she says.
“There is nothing here other than us.”
But those southern skies were unknown for a long time by the Northern Hemisphere explorers.
Even now, Naomi says the amount of people that don’t have an appreciation for our night sky is a shame – especially as light pollution means many people never get to see what it actually looks like.
“We don’t realise what we aren’t seeing, so we don’t value it.”
Naomi says that the project was “so hard” and remembers how she spent a whole day just trying to calculate the universe in terms of Auckland’s Skytower.
Her job was to make astronomy undertakable for a general audience. Now that the Harper Collins-published book is out before Christmas, Naomi says her nights will no longer be used to map the revolving of the universe. Instead she will put the darkness towards some more productive use … sleeping