River Murray Dark Sky Reserve night sky impresses SA astronomer

SPECTACULAR: University of SA astronomy lecturer Paul 'Starman' Curnow snapped gazing at the Milky Way at the River Murray Dark Sky Reserve. Photo: Graeme Stanley
SPECTACULAR: University of SA astronomy lecturer Paul 'Starman' Curnow snapped gazing at the Milky Way at the River Murray Dark Sky Reserve. Photo: Graeme Stanley

A stunning night image showing a renowned South Australian astronomer gazing the the Milky Way was caught this month in the state's first Dark Sky Reserve near the base of the Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges.

Snapped by Paul 'Starman' Curnow's colleague Graeme Stanley, the duo had position themselves at Meldanda, near Cambrai, in the River Murray Dark Sky Reserve.

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According to Curnow, the reserve is only the second Dark Sky accredited region in the country, after the Warrumbungles Dark Sky Park in NSW.

"Dark Sky accreditation is basically like World Heritage Listing for the night sky," he explained.

The photo shows the University of SA astronomy lecturer admiring the Southern Cross and the Pointers.

"Aboriginal Australians have been able to gaze into the night sky for tens of thousands of years and see skies like this," Curnow shared.

However, he said, over time the light from cities and towns has encroached upon the view.

Anecdotally, more than 80 per cent of the world's population now experiences some form of light pollution.

"...so it is fitting that just like we save areas of wilderness, we are attempting to save our night sky."

Yet he added that Australia is fortunate to still have the best views of the night in the world.

"...the potential for 'astro-tourism' is literally astronomical." he said.

Curnow explained how the image taken on January 12 shows him looking towards the Southern Cross, which he says the traditional custodians of the region see as an 'eagle's claw' and the Kaurna call Wilto (also spelled Wirltu).

"Our galaxy contains about 200-billion stars, and about 5000 stars can be seen naked eye from this site," he said.

"It is one of the few places in the world where the band of the Milky Way can still be clearly seen. In fact, a third of humankind can no longer see the Milky Way," he added.