The magnificence of the southern sky will never be more vivid than when you’re travelling in the Outback. For many nomads, there comes a time – as they sit there staring up into the twinkling infinity of our universe and beyond – when they want to learn more. Most people can pick out the Southern Cross and Orion’s Belt, but grey nomads are in the perfect position to take things a step further.
Even without a telescope –which incidentally, can be surprisingly inexpensive and easy to transport in the van – there are an awful lot of things to see and learn. There are more than 30 amateur astronomical societies in Australia and these organisations are happy to do what they can to encourage the enthusiastic beginner. They often hold skywatching meetings to discuss astronomical events, and guide members and guest on a tour of the stars and planets. Log on to the Australian Astronomy website to find and contact the group closest to you.
There are also more than 30 public observatories, visitor centres or planetariums. In addition to their powerful telescopes, many of these centres offer educational planetarium shows about aspects of the universe.
If you’re keen to learn more, another good way to start is to pick up a monthly or yearly guide to the night sky. The Australian Sky Guide is published every year and includes a calendar of the sky for the following 12 months. It provides easy calculations for wherever you are in Australia to determine local rise and set times of the sun, moon and the planets, as well as lots of tidal information. The guide is produced by the Sydney Observatory.
Another good guide to the night sky that details monthly astral phenomena and events is Astronomy Australia – a Practical Guide to the Night Sky, produced by Quasar Publishing (http://www.quasarastronomy.com.au/)
If you’re only interested in finding a few highlights to look out for, note that local and regional newspapers often include a special astronomy section alerting readers to rising or visible planets, comets of unusual astronomical phenomena.
So while you may find some magnificent lonely camping spot in the farthest reaches of the remote outback, as you look skywards at night, you’ll most certainly realise … you are not alone.