Reach for the stars from central Victoria

What makes the centre of Victoria the perfect place to view the wonders of space? 

Most of us can’t afford a ride on one of Richard Branson’s rockets to take a glimpse of outer space.

But what you may not know is that a trip to central Victoria is a much quicker and more affordable way to see what’s above.

Lacking the light pollution of Melbourne, parts of central Victoria are dark enough to see objects invisible to the naked eye – and there are plenty of ways to get a closer look.

Based in Heathcote, the Astronomical Society of Victoria (ASV) is helping amateur astronomers in the region make the most of central Victoria’s ideal conditions for stargazing.

For more than 100 years, ASV has been an integral part of astronomy in Victoria through a broad range of public events, radio broadcasts and educational activities.

This includes the monthly Sidewalk Astronomy event in Bendigo next to the Discovery Science and Technology Centre, where the public can enjoy a hands-on experience learning the ins and outs of stargazing.

ASV regularly hosts public events across the state, loading up vans and car boots with telescopes, computers and other equipment suited for viewing deep space.

'Regional Victoria is a great place to stargaze due to there being far less light pollution than metropolitan Melbourne,' ASV President Mark Iscaro says.

'One of the most amazing things I’ve experienced was capturing an image of the Andromeda Galaxy using my phone without a telescope at Lake Tyrrell,' he says.

The club operates a large range of telescopes at its Leon Mow dark sky site near Heathcote that can reveal galaxies, nebulae and stars located millions of lightyears away. This includes an all-abilities telescope funded by the Victorian Government.

ASV recently partnered with the Discovery Centre’s new Bendigo Planetarium to uncover even more ways to engage with outer space in regional Victoria.

The state-of-the-art planetarium was funded by the Victorian Government and opened in May, featuring an immersive 360-degree dome theatre.

The Discovery Centre was established in 1995 as Australia’s first science and technology centre outside a major metropolitan area.

According to Discovery Centre Science Communicator Kendal Fairweather, the upgraded planetarium will pave the way for more young people in regional Victoria to learn and understand space.

'In the new dome, we take groups through our solar system to talk about new, existing and developing knowledge about the universe,' Kendal says.

'The new planetarium allows us to view the sky and zoom right into images of nebular, stars and galaxies.'

The planetarium provides access to more than 30,000 items of scientific data from agencies including NASA and the European Organisation for Astronomical Research (ESO).

The Discovery Centre also plans to work with Traditional Owners to provide further knowledge about the stars through the Planetarium.

'We’ve got strong First Nations communities whose knowledge and understanding of the sky goes back thousands of years and those communities want to share what they understand about the sky,' Kendal says.

'We benefit a lot as a society to share knowledge, so I hope that we can see science be more available in our regional communities to see and understand more about space.'

Astrophotography might sound difficult at first, but Mark and the ASV are committed to showing the public that it’s possible with just their mobile phones.

The process involves downloading an app to “stack” several hundred photographs captured through a telescope into a single image. This helps bring out intergalactic objects otherwise invisible to the naked eye.

'The reason why I like to use a mobile phone is to show people you don’t need fancy equipment to fall in love with it,' Mark says.

'Every child has got a phone almost so it’s a really good way at public events to show them what you can do with a phone and if they take their own.'

Mark’s Instagram page features some of his astrophotography captured on his smartphone.

Both ASV and the Bendigo Planetarium are opening the door for the public to find more ways to explore and understand outer space in regional Victoria.