Western Australia has some of the most darkest night skies in the world, with our southern sky offering stargazers & photographers the best views of the Milky Way Galaxy. Learn more about stargazing in Western Australia.
Since the dawn of human civilization, mankind have looked to the sky to navigate Earth’s vast oceans, decide where to plant crops, use the stars for architectural guidance, and to help answer questions of where we came from and how we got here.
Stargazing instills us with fascination about our world and the galaxies beyond. It probes us (mind the pun) to ponder life’s bigger questions and seek further meaning behind our existence. It’s such a feel-good activity to do, so why not make some time to do it? Go on, it’s free, and you deserve a technology detox cleanse once in a while.
Western Australia has some of the darkest night skies in the world, thanks to its large mass and remoteness to the rest of Australia (and the rest of the world). Plus, being in Earth’s southern hemisphere, it shows off one of the best views of the Milky Way Galaxy in the world. In addition, you also get vivid views of the stunning Magellanic Clouds, the Jewel Box cluster of stars and the Southern Cross, which cannot be seen in Europe or America.
WHY IS ASTRONOMY IMPORTANT?
The night sky is clustered with incredible objects in our universe; planets, moons, shooting stars, comets and galaxy clusters that most of us know little about, let alone are able to identify. Astronomy is a discipline that opens our eyes and gives context to our place in the Universe.
Astronomy has always had a significant impact on our world view. The more we learn about it, the more it reshapes how we see the world. Just as it triggered a revolution when the Earth was discovered as round (not flat), so too, did the realization that our Earth was not at the center of the Universe.
Did you know – the sun is halfway through its life cycle. At 4.5 billion years old, it has about 5 billion years left until it balloons into a red giant. The sun, as it heats up and expands, will engulf the inner planets including Earth, before cooling down and becoming a white star. While back on Earth, waters will be boiled away and the world will become a lifeless rock. That’s OK though – we will all be long gone by then. Stephen Hawking has regularly warned after all, mankind must conquer and colonise space or we will perish staying here on Earth.
Our sun is powerful, but it is just one lonely star in a great self-gravitating assemblage of suns called The Milky Way Galaxy. Want to know where our solar system sits in the Milky Way? Look below. We are a mere dot, sitting on an obscure spiral arm, 30 thousand light years from the center of our galaxy, and guess what. Our Milky Way Galaxy is not the centre of the Universe either, it’s one of hundreds of billions and billions of more galaxies.
Click to Enlarge. Milky Way Galaxy indicating where Earth is, with Carl Sagan quote. Carl Sagan was the most famous U.S scientist of the 1970’s & ’80s for his work in astronomy, cosmology, astrophysics, astrobiology & scientific search for extraterrestrial life.
STARGAZING IS TIME TRAVEL
Astronomy is history, and the telescope is our time machine looking right at it.
When you look up into space, you are looking up into the past. Telescopes allow us to piece together how the Universe started.
Light from these faraway galaxies began traveling to Earth billions of years ago, long before humans roamed our planet. Because light travels vast distances across space to get to our eyes, many of the stars we see shining back to us right now, have actually already died, millions or billions of years ago. We just haven’t received the ‘latest update’ yet, so to speak. When we look into a professional telescope, the galaxies we see now, are as they appeared billions of years ago.
Take the sun for example. It’s 150 million km away, taking 8 minutes for light to travel that distance. When you are looking at the sun now, you are actually seeing how it looked 8 minutes ago. You’re looking back in time, 8 minutes.
When you are looking at the brightest star in Earth’s night sky, Sirius, you’re looking back in time, 8 years. Now, if you grab your binoculars, you might be able to see back in time 2 million light years. With telescopes, you could see back in time 50 million light years, and with professional much-bigger telescopes, you can glimpse light that’s almost as old as the Universe itself, looking back billions of light years into the past. If aliens were viewing Earth through a telescope 65 million light years away, they would see the dinosaur age. Sight is based on light.
Star-gazing can foster an appreciation of the natural world and how delicate the balance of life is. Pictured: ‘All Sky’ by Grahame Kelaher
THE BENEFITS OF STARGAZING
There are tonnes of amazing (and undervalued) benefits of stargazing. By looking up in awe and acknowledging the presence of ‘something greater’ than ourselves, we are prompted to realise just how small and insignificant we really are in the Universe. This is good. Why? Because it’s this realisation that drives our focus away from our own self-interested needs and towards the greater good of humanity and other life on Earth. Stargazing grounds us, it gives us humility.
- Ignites child-like curiosity and wonder in adults, something adults can forget about as they mature.
- Encourages people to look at the world around them instead of being so focused on themselves.
- It’s a great group-activity where everyone can feel relaxed, open and be able to connect with others.
- It’s also a great ‘recovery hobby’ to be involved in for those trying to escape addiction.
- Serves as a great type of meditation for those seeking peace and clarity.
- It’s a great romantic date idea.
The Universe is a free therapist in way, where stargazing gives us a healthy dose of seeing ‘the bigger picture’ and helping us to grasp an outwardly bigger perspective on things with calmness and clarity.
AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINES – FIRST ASTRONOMER’S
Australian Aborigines are credited with being one of the world’s first astronomers. Astronomy didn’t actually start with the Greeks. Thousands of years earlier, Aboriginal people scanned and mapped the night sky, using it to understand, survive and live in harmony with the harsh, Australian landscape. The sky was also used as a calendar, with stars marking the seasons and availability of food.
While Greek celestial tradition focuses almost exclusively on stars, Aboriginal astronomy focuses on the Milky Way and often incorporates the dark patches between stars, with the best known Aboriginal constellation being “Emu in the Sky”, which has featured in Aboriginal dreamtime storytelling for thousands of years.
Next time you have a clear view of the Milky Way, look for the shape of the Emu stretched across the Milky Way. It’s defined by the dark nebulas (opaque clouds of dust and gas in outer space) that is visible between the stars, rather than the stars themselves.
The beauty of Western Australia is you don’t have to travel far to get to a perfect spot for naked-eye stargazing. Ideally, the best places to stargaze and take photos are as far away from civilization and light pollution as possible.
To help plan your road trips, stay up to date with weather reports, as well as utilise ‘light pollution maps’ that are available on the internet, such as Dark Night Sky Finder Map (search “Western Australia”).
It’s important to note that the Milky Way season is February to October, with the best time to take astrophotography between May to August.
TOP STARGAZING SPOTS IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
The basic elements we find in stars (and the gas and dust around them) are the same elements that make up our bodies, further deepens the connection between us and the cosmos. This connection touches our lives, and the awe it inspires is perhaps the reason that the beautiful images astronomy provides us with are so popular in today’s culture.
Take a look at these top stargazing spots in Western Australia along with some fantastic astrophotography by local Western Australians below:
Here are the Top 15 stargazing Spots in Western Australia:
1. ROEBUCK BAY, Broome
Start off your evening riding a camel on Cable Beach against a gorgeous sun setting, before driving 15 minutes down the road to Roebuck Bay to watch the full moon rise. From March to October/November, you will witness the breathtaking phenomenon that is known as the gold ‘Staircase to the Moon’, where the full moon reflects off the exposed mudflats at extremely low tide, creating a beautiful optical illusion of stairs reaching to the moon.
2. THE WHEATBELT
A two-hour drive from Perth, you will be able to view an incredible blanket of stars. On a moonless night, you will also be able to see the Milky Way Galaxy stretch right across the night sky.
3. PERTH HILLS
Escape the glow of Perth City to find protection in the nearby Perth Hills. Perth Observatory is situated here, in Bickley. Here you will be able to learn more about astronomy in Western Australia on public viewing nights.
4. ALBANY AND ESPERANCE, Southern Coast
This part of WA’s Southern Coast gives you a chance to see an auroea borelis (if you’re lucky). A colourful display of red and green lights that’s also known as the ‘Southern Lights’. It’s a rare sight in WA and if it does ever occur, it will only be seen from the South.
5. WOOLEEN STATION, Murchison Region
Covering over a quarter of a million acres of picturesque outback, Wooleen Station is a remote cattle station where the Milky Way Galaxy seems so close, you’d think you could touch it. The station has plenty of accommodation options, so you can enjoy stargazing in comfort. This nature based station’s focus is on the environmental rehabilitation of the WA Outback. The Murchison Region is also a popular spot for Astrofest.
6. THE PINNACLES, Nambung National Park
Stargaze among thousands of ancient desert sculptures that are millions of years old at The Pinnacles. Situated 250km north of Perth City, simply take Indian Ocean Drive to Nambung National Park. Astro-photography enthusiasts frequent here often to capture interesting images of the Milky Way Galaxy arching above the limestone structures. Under moonlight, the shapes of the pinnacles cast awesome shadows that make for great photos.
7. WAVE ROCK
At Wave Rock, near Hyden, you will be able to directly above you all the way to the horizon in each direction. The dark night sky and glistening stars look magnificent against this other WA landmark.
A rural agriculture town located 92km north of Perth, Gingin isn’t too far of a drive but still just far enough for spectacular stargazing viewing. Visit the Gravity Discovery Observatory where you can learn more about astronomy in WA.
9. MOORE RIVER
About 1 hour north of Perth (and not too far from Gingin) is Moore River, a pretty idyllic setting that’s great for nature hikes, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and horse riding. Why not stargaze from the gorgeous Moore River banks. Camping is a main attraction here, but there are also many beach house style accommodations to choose from.
10. DRYANDRA COUNTRY
Two hours south-east of Perth is Dryandra Country, nicknamed ‘The Heart of Australia’s Golden Outback’. It’s very dark out there and as such its popular with local Astronomy groups. There are some great camp and cabin sites that are ideal spots for seeing meteor showers or shooting stars. The annual Geminid Meteor Shower in mid-December is best seen in the early hours of the morning. This region also includes Narrogin, Wickepin, Pingelly and Cuballing.
11. LAKE BALLARD
Situated in the remote WA outback (one and a half hour’s drive from Kalgoorlie), Lake Ballard is a world-class art site that showcases 51 steel ‘Gormley Sculptures’ by renowned artist Antony Gormley. Under the nightsky, these 51 steel humanoid-alien-hybrid-type sculptures stand out against the stark white salt plain of Lake Ballard. The sculptures appear ghostlike on the horizon, shimmering like mirages in the heat. This is another great spot for stargazing and astro-photography.
12. KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK, Pilbara Region
Located 1400km north of Perth (and 80km north-east of mining town Tom Price) is Karijini National Park. Its natural and diverse landscape with creeks, waterfalls and gorges offers visitors stunning scenery with unspoiled space views away from city lights. Centred in the Hamerley Ranges, it is WA’s second largest park and is another popular spot for budding space and landscape photographers.
13. LANCELIN, Sand Dunes
Why not combine stargazing with adrenaline? Head to the Lancelin sand dunes, hour and a half north of Perth. Here you can go sand boarding down massive 45 degree angle dunes (which are the biggest in WA), or hit the sand in a dirt bike or four wheel drive. Afterwards, relax with a beer on a dune peak – you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping panoramic views.
14. KALBARRI, Natures Window
Kalbarri is one of Western Australia’s best known national parks, with its jaw-dropping unique landscape, scenic gorges, white and red banded sandstones and soaring coastal cliffs. Many of these dramatic rock formations are attractions in their own right, like Nature’s Window, Z-Bend, Hawks Head and the scenic lookout Ross Graham Lookout.
15. CERVANTES, Wind Farm
The laidback fishing village of Cervantes is about a two hour drive from Perth, and only a 21 minute drive from The Pinnacles. It’s famous for its white sandy beaches, fishing and rock lobster! But for an alternative tour, visit the Emu Downs Wind Farm there. The coastal site consists of 48 Vestas wind turbines (each with 1.65 MW generating capacity) and is great for astrophotography experimenting.
The shire of Toodyay is one of Western Australia’s oldest towns just one hour from Perth. It sits on the Avon River in the Wheatbelt region, offering exquisite views of the landscape in every direction. With great historic attractions and plenty of accommodation available, Toodyay is a popular stargazing spot, especially for astro-photographers. Also in the area is the new Toodyay Garden Observatory (relocated from Gingin).
17. DUNSBOROUGH, South West
Beside the clear and calm waters of Geographe Bay, is the pretty coastal town of Dunsborough, 254 km south of Perth. Here, you can lap up absolute paradise without a care in the world while watching the stars.
18. LAKE CLIFTON, Peel Region
Stargaze with ancient, living fossils (that are as old as Earth itself) in Lake Clifton, a one hour drive south from Perth, past Mandurah. Great for astrophotography experimentation. Thrombolites may not look like much, but they are just as integral to Earth’s natural history as the more well-known stromatolites found in Hamelin Pool (Shark Bay World Heritage Site).
Hundreds of millions of years ago the ancestors of thrombolites and stromatolites produced the oxygen in the atmosphere that is required for life as we know it.
Science is a window to learning and understanding the Universe more. Science facts should be very bit as exciting as science fiction.
Scitech is a not-for-profit organisation that operates the Scitech Discovery Centre, a permanent interactive science museum, which includes a planetarium. They always have new things happening, as well as host special ‘adults only’ nights. View what’s currently showing at the planetarium here.
(08) 9215 0700 || City West centre, Railway St & Sutherland Street, Perth WA 6005
OBSERVATORIES IN PERTH
1. Perth Observatory
Western Australia’s oldest observatory (and a heritage site) serving WA for 119 years, remaining actively involved in the service of public education. It’s located 25km east of Perth in Bickley.
(08) 9293 8255 || 337 Walnut Road, Bickley, Western Australia
2. Gravity Discovery Centre Observatory
The Gravity Discovery Centre Observatory is an exciting science education centre for physics and astronomy just an hour north of Perth, near Gingin. It’s a hands-on science exhibit where you can learn about the latest discoveries in science and technology, and is the only centre in Australia with a focus on Gravity and Cosmology. Supports Perth Observatory.
(08) 9575 7577 || 1098 Military Road, Yeal, WA
3. New Toodyay Observatory (formally known as Gingin Observatory)
The Toodyay Garden Observatory was opened as a public observatory in October 2001 and has always been operated as a private business, was in Gingin but has now relocated over to Julimar in Toodyay. They have two permanent telescopes in a garden setting with volunteer astronomers who sometimes bring additional one or two scopes.
(08) 9575 7740 || 163 Howard Road, Julimar, Toodyay WA 6567
ASTROFEST – FREE ANNUAL ASTRONOMICAL EVENT
Love astronomy and making new friends? ‘Astrofest’ is Perth’s only annual astronomical event that the whole family can enjoy and set up a picnic at Taking place at Curtain Stadium in Bentley on Saturday 12th March 2016, Astrofest celebrates Australian science, offering a variety of optical and radio telescopes for all to observe through during the day and night. There will also be interesting, engaging and exciting indoor and outdoor activities to enjoy.
Don’t feel small while looking back up at the night sky. Feel privileged to be part of our amazing Universe. We’ve accomplished a lot on our little oasis planet, in the vastness of space.
Did you like the astro-photography used in my article?
Contact the respective photographer for further information about whether you can purchase a copy of their image, or take a look at their other work below:
Grahame Kelaher Photography – https://www.facebook.com/grahamekelaherphotography | Vimeo
Scott McCook Photography – https://www.facebook.com/scottjonphotography/
Matt Briggs Photography – https://www.facebook.com/ASR.Briggs
Roger Groom Photography – http://astrophotography.com.au/
Get Involved: Astronomy Groups in Western Australia
The Astronomical Group of Western Australia – http://www.astrogroupwa.org/
The Astronomical Society of Western Australia Inc. – http://aswa.info/
Astronomy WA (Western Australia’s Astronomy & Space Science Community) – http://astronomywa.net.au/
Stargazers Club of WA – http://stargazersclubwa.com.au/
Celestial Visions – http://www.celestialvisions.com.au/
The Science Network of WA – http://www.sciencewa.net.au/
Curtin University – http://astronomy.curtin.edu.au/local.cfm
Earth Side Astronomy – http://earthsideastronomy.com.au/