Professor Fred Watson is Australia’s first Astronomer-at-Large, an outreach and advocacy role within the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. He is graduate of the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and worked at both of Britain’s Royal Observatories before joining the Australian Astronomical Observatory as Astronomer-in-Charge in 1995. Recognised internationally for helping to pioneer the use of fibre optics in astronomy during the 1980s, Fred is best known today for his award-winning radio and TV broadcasts, books, music, dark-sky advocacy and other outreach ventures. He holds adjunct professorships in several Australian universities, and was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2010. He has an asteroid named after him (5691 Fredwatson), but says that if it hits the Earth, it won’t be his fault. His latest book, Exploding Stars and Invisible Planets, was published by Columbia University Press in January.

IDSW Presentation Description: Dark Skies Down Under

Australia’s tradition of sky-watching goes back tens of thousands of years, with the country’s 200 or so Aboriginal nations all having their own night-sky legends. Unlike our western join-the-dots tradition, Aboriginal constellations also incorporate dust lanes in the Milky Way, which need dark skies to be seen. Modern astronomy in Australia arrived with European settlement at the end of the eighteenth century, and made giant strides with the introduction of radio astronomy after the Second World War.

The southern hemisphere boasts some of the most important objects in the night sky, including the Galactic Centre, the two nearest large dwarf galaxies, and the two brightest globular clusters. Today’s Australian astronomers have access to a range of world-class optical telescopes both domestically and overseas, while the nation boasts the most radio-quiet region on Earth at Murchison in outback Western Australia. This is the site of the international Square Kilometre Array and its precursor instruments. Just as the national optical observatory at Siding Spring in New South Wales is protected from light pollution by state legislation, Murchison is also legally protected from radio-frequency interference.

Facilities such as these are strong advocates of the need to protect the night sky, and there is growing awareness of the ills of light pollution throughout the nation. A spin-off is the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance (ADSA), which takes the dark sky message beyond astronomy to ecology and human health. In this short talk, ADSA’s patron highlights Australia’s view of the night sky, and explains how you, too, can experience some of the nation’s pristine dark skies – once the Covid-19 emergency is over.