Australia has a relative abundance of astro-tourism destinations, and a growing movement to help protect their darkness.
An Aboriginal dreamtime story tells of the fire magic in the foot of Kambughuda, protecting her younger sisters from the hunter Nyeeruna.
The story doesn’t just exist in the oral tradition of the world’s oldest living cultures, it plays out in the night sky; the hunter Nyeeruna is known in the western astrological tradition as Orion; Kambughuda’s fire magic is the red star Aldebaran and her little sisters the Pleiades constellation.
Krystal De Napoli, a Gomeroi astrophysicist told us the story – which demonstrates Indigenous Australians knew of the variable stars around Orion long before European astronomers – at Nocturna, the dark sky party on Tasmania’s east coast, which concludes Hobart’s Beaker Street science and art festival.
The constellations “are our books”, De Napoli says. But this library is being hidden by light pollution.
Over 80% of the world’s population now live in areas where they cannot see stars. Beyond depriving humans of starlight, light pollution threatens the creatures of the night; bats, bogong moths, turtles and fireflies are all affected.
But at the same time as “sky glow” increasingly obscures the stars, Australians and New Zealanders are seeking out darkness for stargazing in ever-greater numbers.
The Mackenzie region in New Zealand’s south island has seen a 300% increase in visitors since Aoraki/Mount Cook national park and the Mackenzie Basin was named an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012.
President of Dark Skies Tasmania, Landon Bannister, says the rise of astro-tourism happened organically. He sees it as part of a broader shift toward reconnecting with nature.
“It’s really important to embrace darkness. One of the most beautiful things about stargazing is to just take the time to let your eyes dark adapt. We spend so much time under artificial light now.”
The desire to see stars benefits rural communities. Urban billboards, car parks and multi-story office buildings lit up throughout the night are some of the biggest sources of light pollution.
Bannister says you have to drive around three hours from cities like Melbourne and Sydney to see the Milky Way – and even further from cities in the US and Europe. But in places like New Zealand and Tasmania, you only need to drive 30 minutes out of town to see the drifts of light that give the Milky Way its name.
This is an excerpt from an article by Natasha May, originally published by The Guardian.