We’re fortunate in Australia to have some of the darkest skies in the world, perfect for stargazing, and we don’t have to travel far, to experience them in Victoria.
An hour or so drive north-west from Melbourne, one finds the majestic Macedon Ranges and the beautiful countryside around Daylesford – perfect locations, away from the light-polluted suburbs, for contemplating the Universe above your head and seeing it as nature intended.
Humans have been looking up at night, and wondering, for tens of thousands of years. Locally, indigenous people have been telling their stories via their celestial pictures.
The summer sky has some of the brightest stars and constellations to be savoured, yet perhaps the most impressive heavenly sight is the Aboriginal figure of The Emu. However, it isn’t featured in any traditional star atlas because unlike the European constellations; its shape is not made up from stars. Instead of a picture created by joining stars like dots, it’s made up from the dark patches in the Milky Way. It emerges from the south-eastern horizon around midnight and stands upright just before dawn. It’s an enormous and remarkable figure with its head and beak near the Southern Cross and its neck leading down to its body at the bulge of the Milky Way in Sagittarius. Once seen, it remains etched in your memory.
Astronomy is the oldest science and also the most cutting-edge, though it’s probably the only science that accepts the work of amateurs, who may direct their observations to a number of bodies including to the International Meteor Organization (IMO). Could you ever imagine such a thing in other disciplines, for example, an amateur brain surgeon!?
Looking up at the night sky can also be done for pleasure alone. It certainly fills one with curiosity and takes you far away from the issues of a modern busy day. A new perspective is gained by understanding that every single star you see is just like our sun – some larger some smaller, only so remote they resemble distant Christmas lights hanging from the sky.
What’s more, each of those suns could have its own planets, moons, comets, asteroids and meteors in orbit around it. Seeing a brilliant meteor entering the earth’s upper atmosphere and burning up spectacularly like a skyrocket on New Year’s Eve, is a bucket list goal for many of us – but could there be other beings experiencing the same thing on a far-flung planet out in space?
We may never know the answer to that, but we do know an opportunity exists to see the best meteor shower of the year this December, especially if you can escape from the brightly lit city and get to the country.
The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks on the nights of 13th, 14th, 15th December, and all you have to do is look toward the north-east from 11:30pm onwards. No telescopes required. Put a blanket on the ground or lay in a banana lounge, relax and look up. You may see as many as 15 – 30 meteors per hour vividly burning up in the sky above your head. Some people get together in teams and count them, sending off the total number of meteors observed and the direction of travel to the IMO, hence contributing further to understanding meteor activity.
On the other hand, you could simply gaze skyward and enjoy a dazzling natural light show, the likes of which can only be experienced in the dark skies of rural Victoria.
See more inspiring photos of our starry skies by following @jrodcaptures.
Photo: Malmsbury Viaduct. Photograph by Jarrod Andrews.
Perry Vlahos is the Vice President of the Astronomical Society of Victoria, a professional writer and passionate star gazer. To find out more please visit asv.org.au.
12 of the best accommodation spots to look up and enjoy the show.
- Sky High skyhighmtfranklin.com
- Cosy Tents cosytents.com.au
- The Lodge at Clunes dayget.com.au/the-lodge-at-clunes
- Daylesford Holiday Park daylesfordholidaypark.com.au
- Unyoked unyoked.co/micah
- Braeside braesidemtmacedon.com.au
- Rooks Edge rooksedge.com.au
- Lawsons Lodge lawsonlodge.com.au
- Cleveland Winery clevelandwinery.com.au
- Garden of St Erth gardenbedsglamping.com.au
- Hepburn Springs Escape hepburnbathhouse.com/stay
- RACV Goldfields racv.com.au/goldfields