Rotorua – the gateway to extraterrestrial activity

Astrobiology Conference

Rotorua could be the gateway to answering the question – are we alone in the universe?


An astrobiology conference starting on 24 June will give university students the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of life, the possibility of life outside of Earth and the future for mankind.


University and secondary school students from around the country will attend the conference at a reduced rate, thanks to the support of the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust.


The Trust granted $2,000, towards supporting student subsidies and the hire of the Novotel Rotorua Lakeside venue.


Director of the local organizing committee, Haritina Mogosanu says the opportunity for young space-crazed students to attend the conference is invaluable, with guest speakers such as Dr Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute in California.


“Dr Shostak has made outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy, searching for evidence of intelligent life elsewhere. He is the world’s most famous alien hunter.”


Two students who will be attending the conference are Michaela Dobson and Siân Camp from the University of Auckland. Both students are undertaking research in the Rotorua area – Ms Dobson at Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park and Ms Camp at Rotokawa Power Station, as part of their honours degrees.


Ms Dobson says the conference provides new postgraduate students the opportunity to talk to leaders in the field of astrobiology about their research and how it relates to theirs.


“The conference gives me the chance to develop as an academic in this field. I am really excited, as there are some big-name people attending. I am passionate about hydrothermal systems and Rotorua is the ideal place to learn.”


Ms Camp says her research looks at siliceous hot spring deposits and microstromatolites (rocks which are formed by the growth of layer upon layer of micro-organisms), which are lifeforms suspected to be the same as those found on Mars. The conference will allow her to get all of her work out into the open.


“Networking in the astrobiology community is important, as it is quite small, so being able to make links with people will make my path into the field of astrobiology easier.”


Ms Mogosanu says Rotorua has a strong link to the discipline of astrobiology, because of its environment in which life can exists in extreme conditions which helps scientists to understand how life could form anywhere else other than on earth.


“Yellowstone National Park in the United States and Rotorua in New Zealand are fundamental to research in astrobiology. We call these places analog environments, for early Earth and elsewhere – helping answer questions on the origin and evolution of life.


“We have a vested interest in geothermal areas, they help us work out how life forms elsewhere.”


It is not the first-time astrobiologists have flocked to Rotorua. In 2016, budding young students had the chance to undertake an immersive experience with astrobiology and Māori culture on the Spaceward Bound programme at Rotoiti Marae.


One of these students was former John Paul College student, Marc Rigter who, after learning that evolution may have had some roots right here in his hometown, was magnetically pulled into the world of astrobiology and has since completed a year-long internship at NASA.


Rotorua Trust chairman Stewart Edward says the Trust is proud to support the New Zealand Astrobiology Network.


He says supporting education initiatives are a key priority of the Trust, and this grant shows the wide range of learning opportunities the Trust supports.


“Our kaupapa is a better Rotorua for all, and the most recent round of grants are another way we are working towards achieving this.”



Grants Approved – May 2018


NZ Astrobiology Network – $2,000

BOP Phillipine Friendship Society – $10,000

Department of Corrections – $3,000

Empowered Learning Trust – $30,000

Jackson Park Kindergarten – $10,000

John Paul College – $500

Kaingaroa Forest School – $25,000

Linton Park Community Trust – $25,000

Mamaku Primary School – $5,000

Rotorua Hospital Auxiliary – $5,000

Rotorua Hospital Chaplaincy – $8,000

Rotorua Multicultural Council – $4,000

Rotorua Public Arts Trust – $25,000

Rotorua Young Achievers – $6,500

Sulphur City Steam Rollers – $5,000

Western Heights High School – $500

Young Enterprise Trust – $4,000


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