Guest blog: Bucket List Astronomy Class, Day 1

Posted by Nicole Kiefert
on Thursday, July 27, 2017

Introduction, by C. Renee James

Crosby, Still, and Nash sang about the draw of the southern night sky. Seeing the Southern Cross for the first time sticks in your mind, as does witnessing the the richness of Australia's night sky. So when my colleague Scott Miller and I decided to anchor a traveling university astronomy class on the upcoming total eclipse - which we’ll see in Casper, Wyoming – we knew we had to find a way to show our students the glory of the southern sky as well. And thus was hatched our second-ever Bucket List Astronomy Tour. With twice the enrollment of our 2012 Annular Eclipse/Transit of Venus BLAsT class and a vast array of astronomical special events to report on in the coming weeks, Version 2.0 is already proving to be a phenomenal adventure. And this is how it all began…  

2017 Sam Houston State University Bucket List Astronomy Tour Class L to R: Dr. C. Renee James, Jeffrey Berg, Jamz Engelking, Gilli Rodriguez, Abigail Stephens, Sarah Deitrich, Diane Brewer, Jacob Ackman, Sandy Ackman, Dr. Scott Miller, Maya Fitch, Aliyah Mohammed, Benjamin Blume, Cristal Hernandez, David Collicott, Rayne Horton, Zoe Pappas, Tyler Coleman, Gabriella Loredo, Remey Shelton, and Jimmy Shute of the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus.

Day 1: Acclimating

The first day in Australia was long, rushed, but somehow strangely pleasant. After having a mess of plane delays, changes and baggage issues, we finally found ourselves on our way to Australia. Sleep-deprived and disoriented after completely bypassing an entire calendar day, we rushed to the trains to catch a ride out to Katoomba where we would be staying for the next week. Thankfully this rushed trip was made smooth by the aid of many helpful Australians. And after over 30 hours of traveling we made it to our first stop.

One of the first things that we notices while on 2-hour train ride was that the Sun was not hanging out in the southern sky, which we are used to in the United States. Traveling from the northern to southern hemisphere we went from being in summer to the winter, resulting in more than just a temperature difference. We went from having 14 hours of daylight to just 10.5 hours. While this is something that we experience gradually when transitioning from the summer to winter, experiencing this change overnight has put the difference in daylight hours into perspective for several of us.

The first night we took a short walk to Echo Point - a scenic overlook in Katoomba - where we observed some of the constellations, asterisms and celestial objects that we cannot see from the northern hemisphere. It was amazingly dark. For people who have not been here it is difficult to express just how dark it gets, even just 100 kilometers outside Sydney. The Milky Way stretches across the night sky. The Small Magellenic Cloud was easily visible and the Southern Cross is a brilliant jewel-tipped kite. Even the motions of the stars are different, as we are learning in class, and seeing for ourselves outside, something impossible to do at home.


I’m Zoe Pappas, and I’m a geology major at Sam Houston State University. During my lifetime, I have been to many countries in Europe and the Middle East including Greece, Russia, Romania, Ukraine and Turkey and Syria but I have never traveled below the equator before. While rocks and the Earth may be my specialty, I view this academic trip to Australia as an opportunity to "broaden my horizons" in terms of experiencing new and sights and cultures as well as a great opportunity to learn more about the heavens and universe in the process.

My name is Jacob Ackman and I am an accounting major. I took this class because I'm interested in astronomy. After signing up to take an astronomy course at SHSU. When I discovered I had the option to go to Australia to study it there instead of in the classroom, I knew I had to go.

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