Guest blog: Bucket List Astronomy Class, Day 3

Posted by Nicole Kiefert
on Monday, July 31, 2017

ABORIGINAL SKY STORIES 

Schoolchildren act out the 'Christmas Star' story. // Photo by D. McKinnon

By Benjamin Blume and Remey Shelton

The Scottish-born Australian Dr. David McKinnon is a retired professor and astronomer who came and talked to us about Aboriginal sky stories and his work sharing astronomy with schoolchildren.

We were honored to be the first group of people to hear the story of the Seven Sisters – what we call the Pleiades - from Senior Elder of the Wiradyuri Nation, Auntie Gloria Rogers, who is said to be related to the third sister. The Wiradyuri story of Pleiades is that the stars began as seven beautiful emu sisters who were being pursued by the dingo men, so the sisters asked to be taken into the sky so they couldn't be reached. The dingo men went into the sky, becoming Orion, always pursuing the emu sisters.

Along the way, we found out that there is an Aboriginal saying that “Fur and feather don’t mix,” which was why the emu sisters resisted the dingo men. But as it turns out, different animal surnames indicated different genetic lineages. To protect against inbreeding, those with furbearing animals in their names could not marry people with birds in their names.

Other sky stories revealed the environmental knowledge of the Aborigines. The evening appearance of a rainbow “Christmas” star would indicate that it was time to fish in the Murray River. We played with the planetarium software Stellarium to find out what bright star would show up on the horizon at sunset near Christmas, only to find that the story was about Sirius. At that time of year, the fish had already spawned, so the next generation was guaranteed. So astronomy helped with sustainable fishing! Moreover, Stellarium helped us get a visual representation of the night sky anytime anywhere in the world. We could use more practice, which our professors tell us we will get. 

Dr. McKinnon poses with two schoolchildren who won a challenge (and $5!) to find Venus in the daytime sky.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: 

I’m Benjamin Blume, a junior at SHSU majoring in International Business with a minor in German. This class caught my eye because the world is a big place but space is bigger and full of the unknown and that is what intrigues me. The ability to come on a study abroad to Australia and Wyoming to see what the stars and space have to offer was too amazing an adventure to pass up. I want to have greater knowledge and appreciation for space and the great unknown.

My name is Remey Shelton and I am a Business Major at Sam Houston State University. I have an interest in stars and galaxies and this was my last science course I had to take, so I signed up to take this course. Then I received and email telling me I had the opportunity to participate in a study abroad trip to Australia. I've always wanted to travel out of the country, especially to Australia. Now that I'm not jet lagged anymore, I am very eager to see what else Australia has in store for us! 

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