Jandangga 2023 Australian SKA Office update

While the Australian SKA Office continues to collaborate with partner agencies to progress the SKA Project, in May we were especially keen to get involved in the month-long, global public awareness campaign promoting the need for dark and quiet skies.

As the Murchison is an important site for astrotourism, we thought we’d share what has been happening in eastern Australia in this area.

Dark and quiet skies are crucial for astronomy across the electromagnetic spectrum, including radio and optical astronomy, which the Australian Government supports through its astronomy investments.

The SKA-Low telescope in Australia will require quiet skies to fulfill its important science goals. More broadly, these conditions are needed to protect our skies, the night environment and our cultural heritage.

People gather around telescopes in a field, lit by some low lying red lights. Trees and stars are along the horizon.

Stargazing at Wildbark with the Canberra Astronomical Society

Evening event for dark and quiet skies

To raise awareness, the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance (ADSA) planned an evening event on the International Day of Light (16 May). ADSA is a non-profit organisation dedicated to raising awareness of the impacts of light at night on our natural environment and the benefits of night conservation.

Working with Wildbark learning centre, Mulligans Flat, the ADSA delivered an evening of family-friendly activities and talks focusing on the impact of light pollution on our night sky and environment; empowering attendees with the tools and knowledge to combat the issue.

Professor Fred Watson, the Australian Government’s Astronomer-at-Large, and member of the Australian SKA Office team, spoke about satellites and astronomy.

Other presentations included an introduction by ADSA CEO, Selina Griffith; an informative account of the effects of light pollution on wildlife and human health by ADSA founder, Marnie Ogg; and an explanation of the principles of good lighting by Lighting Engineer Landon Bannister. Outlining research on large and small scales were A/Prof Chris Lidman, Director of the Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran, NSW; Glen Nagle of the Deep Space Tracking Station at Tidbinbilla; and Dr Joanna Haddock, who investigates the effect of light pollution on microbats.

Three-hundred people of all ages gathered to hear talks, take night-time nature walks, view a photo exhibition of Canberra at night by photographer Ari Rex, and to do some stargazing.

Attendees made the most of the emerging dark and quiet sky area above Wildbark, as well as the impressive array of telescopes belonging to the Canberra Astronomical Society. They used these telescopes to view Mars, Venus and the Great Nebula in the constellation of Orion.

Looking after the land as well as the sky

The night walks in the Wildbark nature enclosure were also very popular. Wildbark is Australia’s first fox, cat and rabbit free conservation area dedicated to restoring critically endangered Box-Gum woodland and threatened animal species. Many attendees were fortunate to spot reintroduced eastern bettongs and eastern quolls, both of which had been extinct in the region for over 100 years prior to reintroduction.

A small hopping marsupial (a bettong) looks at us from a night-time grassy landscape.

An Eastern Bettong is caught by the camera. Credit: Wildbark

Protecting our dark and quiet skies is great for many reasons. It’s happening all over Australia and all over the world. Learn more about the International Astronomical Union’s Dark and Quiet Skies Project on their website.

Shanan Gillies, General Manager, Astronomy Branch
Department of Industry, Science and Resources