Wildflowers In The Sky
March 6, 2007
At the end of this week my son George, the pulsar man, will be in the desert outback of Western Australia, about 800 km north of Perth. He’ll be on an outreach mission for the ATNF, aiming to make friends with the aboriginal communities of that very sparsely populated part of Australia, where the core of a new and very important telescope—the largest in the world—may soon be erected on their territory. If Australia’s bid for the SKA gets the go-ahead and if George and his colleagues win the requisite funding for their project, this telescope could soon be used to detect “gravity waves” from the distant galaxies.
Meanwhile, the local people as well as the scientists’ potential sponsors must be persuaded that this is an endeavour worth pursuing. George is flying to Perth, and will then drive to Meekatharra on Saturday, about 800 km, stopping at Wubin and Mt Magnet. On March 14th, he’ll drive from Meekatharra to Cue, then from Cue to the remote community of Pia Wadjarri (115 km along a dirt road), returning to Cue the following day and spending the night at Wooleen Station, before returning via Geraldton to Perth on March 18th. He and his colleagues have been advised to take survival equipment with them in the jeep, including “…fish storage, a slingshot, a bush saw, a hacksaw blade, an ace, a billy, a dolphin torch, a stretcher …” and have been warned of the hazards: “heat/sun radiation, dust, wind, snakes, spiders…”
He’ll spend his 30th birthday at a corroboree in Meekatharra, and then he must give something in return, a hour long lesson on astronomy over the radio waves of the School of the Air, an offshoot of Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service. Some teaching of this kind has already taken place under the auspices of the ATNF’s Wildflowers of the Sky project, this being the name the aboriginees give to the stars that they find so mysterious and magical.
Although science must triumph and education must prevail, I hope that George’s astronomy lesson won’t detract from the mystery of those children’s universe, and if he approaches the subject and the people in the right spirit there is no reason why it shouldn’t even enhance the magic for them.
Good luck, George, and come back safe, mission accomplished.