Everything you need to know about astro-tourism

Astro-tourism is taking nightlife to the next level and there are some incredible places across Australia, from Broken Hill to Broome, where you can join the #lookupclub.

Be transported to galaxies far far away simply by looking up at the night sky.
  • Rachel Gray
  • July 2019

What’s dark, remote and utterly beautiful? Astro-tourism. And it’s trending among travellers looking to escape overtourism, reconnect with nature (nature-based tourism is growing by four per cent year on year in Australia) and trade the big city bright lights for a walk on the dark side. Seeking a view of constellations and planets has become so popular that Australia even broke the Guinness World Record last year for having more than 40,000 stargazers turn their telescopes to the moon at the same time for a full 10 minutes.

But, heavens above, what should earthlings be looking at? Australia’s first female science, technology, engineering and mathematics ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, says Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Saturn and the phases of the moon are visible from city backyards. But in the darkness of the outback, you can see more – thousands more stars, the Milky Way and two satellite galaxies. “You don’t need special equipment,” she says. “But when I show people through the telescope, they’re absolutely flabbergasted by the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter.”

Stargazing is no longer the preserve of space nerds, but is becoming an accessible travel trend.
Stargazing is no longer the preserve of space nerds, but is becoming an accessible travel trend.

For those feeling that emotional pull towards all things intergalactic, it might be reassuring to know there’s a scientific reason behind it. As Lisa explains in her book, When Galaxies Collide (Melbourne University Press, AUD $29.99), the human body is actually made of stardust. “The carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in our DNA formed inside a star that exploded, gathered together, created our solar system and our bodies – so we’re made of the stars,” she says.

To view some serious awe-inspiring stellar phenomena, Lisa recommends heading anywhere dark and away from light pollution with a stargazing smartphone app like Sky Guide or booking a specialised astronomical experience. Expert astronomers can demystify the mysterious, teach you star names and how to spot those tricky constellations and planets all under the romance of an inky night sky sprinkled with big balls of gas, light-years away.

And rest assured, your guides will impart enough star-studded knowledge to prepare you for when the next big event overshadows parts of Australia – that’ll be when the sun and moon align in a total solar eclipse on 22 July, 2028. Until then, in the words of the late Stephen Hawking, “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.”

Where to look up

VIC: Mount Burnett Observatory, Mount Burnett

See the moons of Jupiter and the spectacular detail circulating in the icy rings around Saturn from the big telescopes at Mount Burnett Observatory, located only 1.5 hours’ drive east of Melbourne Airport. The AUD $50 annual membership gets you weekly access to the observatory for a full year, or you can simply purchase tickets for individual viewing nights.

 Mount Burnett Observatory near Melbourne is one of Australia's best spots for stargazers to visit.
Mount Burnett Observatory near Melbourne is one of Australia's best spots for stargazers to visit.

NSW: Outback Astronomy, Broken Hill

Schools, corporate groups and individuals searching for either an educational “binoculars and naked eye” gaze at the moon or a more deep-sky look through a telescope can contact Linda and Travis Nadge at Outback Astronomy, located about six hours’ drive from Adelaide Airport. “There’s nothing better than seeing shooting stars with the Milky Way galaxy in the background,” says Linda.

WA: Astro Tours, Broome

Ease into a comfy swivel chair with a hot chocolate as you observe miracles of the universe with the guidance of Greg Quicke (#SpaceGandalf and presenter of the BBC and ABC’s Stargazing Live) at the helm. The educational and entertaining stargazing sessions at Astro Tours run for two hours.


Astronomy Apps

Download one of these stargazing apps and point your smartphone at the sky to see the constellations, planets and stars.

Sky Guide

A beautifully designed app packed with great features for identifying stars, planets and constellations. Sky Guide is available on iOS devices with Apple Watch support.

SkyView

This app helps you to identify stars in the night sky by pointing your phone in any direction and even works without a WiFi connection. Skyview is available for iOS and Android devices.

Stellarium

Available on iOS and Android and desktop, Stellarium is an accurate, free and open source planetarium app.