2018 Uluru Astronomy Weekend

ASTRO 3D hosted the 2018 Uluru Astronomy Weekend in partnership with Voyages Indigenous Tourism’s Ayer’s Rock Resort on 14-16 September.

What a fabulous line-up of all things astronomy in the glorious and magical outback. Our host this year was ABC News’ Nate Byrne, who brought his love of science communication and astronomy to the fore.

We started with a traditional Inma Welcome to Country by senior Anangu elders and young performers, which was a song and dance based around the story of the Seven Sisters (or Pleiades constellation, as we know it). Fascinating that different cultures can look up at the same night sky and interpret it in a way that makes sense to them.

 

We were then introduced to our Astronomers for the Weekend:

  • Professor Rachel Webster –¬†University of Melbourne and ASTRO 3D Project Lead for the Murchison Widefield Array Epoch of Reionisation Project
  • Professor Ray Norris – CSIRO and Western Sydney University and researcher on Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
  • Professor Lisa Kewley – Director of ASTRO 3D, Australian National University and expert in Galaxy Evolution
  • Dr Brad Tucker – Australian National University and researcher in supernovae and regular on TV and radio

A lively discussion about the start of the Universe and how that has impacted the evolution of the Universe since then was had – and not everyone was always in agreeance!

Then for those of us who may not have our PhDs in astrophysics, our Education Officer Matt Dodds gave an overview of Astronomy 101 – everything you need to know to be able to get the most out of all the talks by actual astrophysicists coming up. Although all the talks are designed for the general public, a brush-up on basics never goes astray! Afterwards, we made our own spectroscopes – instruments that can help break light up into its component wavelengths and used by astrophysicists to answer some of the more difficult questions about the Universe.

 

That night, guests could either go stargazing with the Voyages Startalkers, enjoy a movie under the stars – Gravity – only to have all the suspension of belief ripped away by the ever-factual Dr Brad Tucker who explained about space-crying and space-diapers and now we can never look at Sandra Bullock in Gravity in the same way again.

On Saturday, we had a series of rotating talks from our Astronomers:

  • Aboriginal Astronomy and Navigation – Ray Norris
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – Rachel Webster
  • Explosions and Collisions in Space – Brad Tucker
  • Oxygen – Breathing the Universe – Lisa Kewley

It’s always amazing to listen to talks like this – to expand your thinking and knowledge and be wowed at the amazing scientists we have here in Australia, who are pushing the boundaries and limits of what we know about the Universe.

Over lunch, we also tested the limits of our minds with a Space-themed Astro Trivia, again hosted by Nate Byrne. Astronomers mingled with guests and between both of them, managed to answer lots of questions about space, astronomy and were particularly challenged by the music trivia round where they had to guess what space movie or TV show the music came from!

The highlight of the weekend is the showing off of Uluru and Kata Tjuta at sunset, followed by dinner, chats with astronomers, telescope viewing and stargazing under the amazing outback skies. Spotting the International Space Station as it whizzed by was an added bonus!

All in all a great weekend shared by astronomy enthusiasts in a magical place!