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Behind the Wings ®
The Podcast – S3, Episode 29

This episode will dive into the history of some of the world’s first astronomers, exploring how their knowledge has been passed down for more than 60,000 years. We are going to the southern hemisphere to learn about Australia’s Indigenous astronomy, and the impact it has on our world today.

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Our guest today is Peter Swanton! Peter is a Gamilaraay man from Mackay, Queensland, an astrophysics graduate, and cultural astronomer. He is actively involved in Indigenous astronomy, outreach, and research, and has a passion for the challenging yet critical subject of dark sky preservation. Peter will highlight the scientific importance of Indigenous star knowledge and the challenges and opportunities in preserving that history.

Join us as we hear the stories of Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, why constellations and star clusters are so impactful, and how issues like light pollution threaten the very field of astronomy itself. There is a LOT to learn in this episode!

Emu in the Milky Way

The emu in the Milky Way, as visible from Australia. Photo Credit: Stellarium.

Key Takeaways:
  • The Indigenous Peoples of Australia didn’t have a written language, they were only able to pass along information via spoken word, song, dance, and stories. There are an estimated 273 different language groups across Australia.
  • While not all stars can be viewed from both hemispheres, all the zodiac constellations are viewable from either. Although, they will be upside down depending on which hemisphere you are familiar with.
  • The Emu in the Sky is a popular example of how astronomy was used practically by the Indigenous Peoples. Depending on what direction the Emu was facing, it helped give insight towards Emu life patterns.
  • Creation stories are stories that are passed down that talk about the physical existence as well as store important information. A popular story about Australia’s constellation the Southern Cross tells the story of the first person to die on Earth.
  • A songline is one of many paths across the land (or sometimes the sky). Embedded within traditional song cycles, dance rituals, stories, and artistic expressions, these pathways enable individuals to traverse vast distances while reciting the songs that describe landmarks, water sources, natural features, and sometimes stars and constellations. These routes serve as crucial connections between Native group ancestral lands, carrying intricate geographical, mythological, and cultural information giving directions on how to travel across Australia to visit other Indigenous groups.
  • Light pollution is quickly starting to impact our dark skies. Due to light from cities and satellites, it is harder than ever before to see the stars and galaxies with the naked eye. Light pollution is not only affecting dark sky preservation, but is also adversely affecting our vision, bird migration patterns, and newborn sea turtles.
  • Peter’s message to younger generations is to pursue what makes you happy.
Resources:
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