The Emergence and Advancement of Australian Astronomy
The Emergence and Advancement of Australian Astronomy

Out of all the entrancing things or views this universe offers us, there is one thing that makes us the most inquisitive. Can you guess what is it? Well, it is the image of a never-ending blue planet floating above our head, glowing splendidly with tiny little diamond-like stars. Astronomy is something that evokes this urge in us to look upward and know more, to take a leap from this world to another. In Australia, people have always been curious to know the other world, to investigate the sun, the moon, the stars, and heaven. Astronomy has a long history in Australia that extends back as much as 50,000 years.  The world has witnessed Aussies watching the sky for thousands of years. 

Not just the citizens, in fact, the Australian government has also taken so many initiatives to explore the other world. The foundation of government observatories in Sydney and Melbourne in the nineteenth century is the greatest example of the initiative taken by the Australian government towards astronomy. In addition to this, Australia took a leading role in the new science with the development of radio astronomy. Talking about all these examples, how can we forget about the 3.9-meter Anglo-Australian Telescope? This development has prospered the Australian optical astronomy since the 1960s and also it became the principal national facility in 1974.

The Australian Astronomy – Australia’s Oldest Culture

Astronomy in Australia is not something that has emerged recently, in fact, its emergence started right at the time of the Australian aboriginal people. The aboriginal people were well-versed with the technology and culture, the stone tools and buried ochre pigments prove the same. They used to observe the sky and considered it an imperative part of their daily rituals. Even the Dreamtime stories of the aboriginal people were all about the illusions of the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky, etc which clearly expresses their curiosity for the other world. 

There is one thing common to many aboriginal people and that is “Emu”, which is shaped like the Coalsack Nebula and the dust clouds of Circinus, Norma, and Scorpius. Another most important thing to note is how the aboriginal people used to assume the moon as male and the sun as female. This assumption of the aboriginal people has a logical theory as their observation of the moon covering the sun during an eclipse represents the consummation of the relationship. There a slew of more examples that show how the aboriginal people had a keen interest and understanding of astronomy. All of the Dreamtime stories instilled moral values in younger members of the society with which they could connect to their ancestor spirits in the sky.

The Great Melbourne Telescope

With wealth accumulation during the gold rush in the 1850s, a great observatory was introduced in the colony of Victoria. The Royal Society of the Victorian government constructed the Southern Hemisphere reflector. The great and remarkable invention with 1.2-meter in height, this Melbourne Telescope left everyone in awe of it. In order to perform a unique scientific task that was the hunting for non-luminous objects in the galactic halo, this great Melbourne Telescope was renewed in the 1990s which was almost a century later. This experiment which was officially known as the Massive Compact Halo Object (MACHO) was a great success for Australia.

Also, one of the recent initiatives by the Australian government is unforgettable. To explain this, let’s take you back to the 18th January 2003 when a colossal firestorm in Canberra’s south-western came as a disaster for Australia taking away the house of more than 500 Australian families and the lives of four people. In addition to this, it also took away the heritage buildings of the Mount Stromlo Observatory along with the domes of the Great Melbourne plus five other historically significant telescopes. Then in 2009, the remains of these telescopes were taken to the city of Melbourne and it was decided to restore as well as relocate them on the original site. This wonderful work by the Australian government is still in process. 

Australia and ESO

Talking about Australian astronomy, how can we forget about the ESO? This is one of the biggest initiatives by Australian astronomers. The 11th July 2017 has been a remarkable day in the history of Australian astronomy as on this day the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Arthur Sinodinos officially joined hands with Tim de Zeeuw (ESO Director General) at an event at the Astronomical Society of Australia’s Annual Scientific Meeting in Canberra. You must be wondering what does this engagement actually means and why is it the biggest achievement in the history of Australian astronomy? Let us explain how:

With this arrangement, Australia can finally have full access to the facilities at La Silla and Paranal. This enables Australia to have access to the four 8.2-meter unit Telescopes ESO’s VLT which is literally a reward for the Australian astronomers as availability of telescopes was the need of Australian astronomers. Also, this arrangement helps Australia to flaunt its expertise in the design and procurement of advanced instrumentation for the telescopes. The arrangement with ESO brings multifold benefits to Australia as on one hand it has impacted the Australian universities and industry and on the other, it flourishes the technologically-adept institutions of Australia such as the AAO.


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Alice Smith in Technology
20 Feb 2021