Uluru Astronomer in Residence
The Uluru Astronomer in Residence program is a partnership with Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia. Every year, between March and November, an CAASTRO astronomer resides at Uluru for two weeks to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for astrophysics with the locals and tourists and via the @CAASTROatUluru Twitter account. See this year's schedule at the bottom of this page.
In addition to the residencies, four prominent CAASTRO astronomers also participate in the annual Uluru Astronomy Weekend to talk about a wide range of topics on Australian astronomy. Attending the inaugural event in 2014, Professors Bryan Gaensler, Ray Norris, Steven Tingay and Rachel Webster spent three days giving lectures, demonstrations and a panel discussion with Dr Karl hosting the weekend, bright shirts and all. The weekend was well attended by resort guests and locals.
Prof. Steven Tingay from Curtin University got schoolkids and grandfathers working together to build a real working radio telescope then and there. Prof. Bryan Gaensler from Sydney University showed how the extreme Universe can stretch our minds, while Prof. Rachel Webster from Melbourne University exposed the Dark side of the Universe. And I described the depth and complexity of ancient Aboriginal astronomical knowledge, which has not only provided Aboriginal people with calendars and navigation, but shows how Aboriginal people thousands of years ago figured out how the sky works.
The highlight for me was probably the panel sessions, in which members of the audience would toss us some curly question about the Universe, invariably resulting in an argument between the astronomers on stage, brilliantly hosted by science celebrity Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki. “What’s the next Big Discovery?” “Dark Matter!”, “Dark Energy”, “No it’s something we haven’t thought of yet!”
Or perhaps the highlight was when I was describing my own research on the evolution of galaxies, and I suddenly saw it from the perspective of the audience. In our work-life as astrophysicists, we tend to immerse ourselves so deeply into our subject, so focussed on the details, that we sometimes lose the big picture of why this is important, how privileged we are to be employed to tackle some of the biggest questions in the history of the Universe. One of the things I love about outreach is that it reminds me why I do astrophysics!
Prof. Ray Norris (Image credits: Kate Gunn)
Astronomers in Residence
Dr Sean Farrell (Image credits: Sean Farrell)
Dr Sean Farrell from University of Sydney spent two weeks as Resident Astronomer early on in the program;
During my stay I worked closely with Mike Dalley, who manages the astronomy components of the various tours at the resort. Two of the tours are entirely about experiencing the night sky, one for families and another aimed more at people who are looking for more of that “wow” factor (as Mike puts it).
On average we spoke to around 30-60 people per day. The most common question (after looking through the solar telescope) was “what are those frilly things around the edge of the Sun?” (the answer, courtesy of Google, was solar prominences). The second most common question was “why are you here and what are you selling?”. My typically response was that I was there to tell people how we are using public funding to do awesome astronomy research. Not a single person I spoke to thought this was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
The Uluru Astronomer in Residence program was a fantastic experience. I spent two weeks in an amazing part of Australia under the darkest skies you could imagine, talking to a huge number of people who have a real curiosity and interest in what we do. I gained a lot of knowledge of the night sky that was previously lacking (I’m an X-ray astronomer by training), learned a lot about indigenous culture (including how to throw a boomerang and a spear), met some of the local wildlife (including a backpack stealing dingo) and, on my days off, explored Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
Dr Iraklis Konstantopoulos (Image credits: Iraklis Konstantopoulos)
Astronomer in Residence, Dr Iraklis Konstantopoulos from the Australian Astronomical Observatory, or Dr Hercules, as he has been affectionately named by the locals, has also been speaking with tourists and locals alike and taking images of the night sky, the 'supermoon' on 10th August and of the amazing landscape which creates the perfect backdrop to the Southern night sky. One young budding Astronomer asked what the "freckles" on the Sun were and the next day there were water rockets being launched.
These photos taken by Iraklis show people and telescopes during the night and are illuminated solely by the bright moonlight—look for the shadows cast by the moon.
(Image credits: Iraklis Konstantopoulos)
- 25 March - 8 April 2017: Tristan Reynolds, University of Western Australia
- 8 April - 22 April 2017: Ben McKinley, University of Melbourne
- 22 April - 6 May 2017: Rajan Chhetri, Curtin University
- 6 May - 20 May 2017: Kimberly Steele, Curtin University
- 20 May - 3 June 2017: Minh Huynh, University of Western Australia
- 3 June - 17 June 2017: Adithya Parthasarathy, Swinburne University
- 17 June - 1 July 2017: Josh Calcino, University of Queensland
- 1 July - 15 July 2017: Michele Trenti, University of Melbourne
Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia are a CAASTRO Industry Partner and we thank them for their continual support of the program.