Dreaming big: National Science Week with Kirsten Banks

Meet Kirsten Banks, Indigenous astronomer and the newest member of our AG family. Over the coming months she’ll be sharing her knowledge of space from an Aboriginal perspective.
Contributor

Kirsten Banks

Contributor

Kirsten Banks

Kirsten Banks is a Wiradjuri astrophysicist and science communicator who loves to share her love for space and astronomy.

By Kirsten Banks August 17, 2020 Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Who loves space and astronomy so much that she annoys her friends with space content constantly? This gal! My name is Kirsten Banks. I’m an astrophysicist and science communicator and I love sharing my passion for space and astronomy. As a young girl I was fascinated with the skies. In primary school I wanted to be a meteorologist. I loved watching the news, but only so I could tune into the resident meteorologist during the final few minutes to watch him/her predict the future! 

When I moved into high school, my passion shifted from the clouds to the stars. In years 9/10, the science teachers took our entire cohort on an excursion to see a documentary about the Hubble Space Telescope on a gigantic movie screen. I remember sitting in that theatre with the one-size-fits-none 3D glasses slipping off my face looking up in awe at the magnificent photos taken by this phenomenal telescope. I was absolutely hooked. I needed to know more about this weird and wonderful universe that we live in. 

From that moment I worked to become an astrophysicist. Along the way I discovered a passion for science communication and today share this with hundreds of scientists out there who are itching to share their science with you. The best part is you can learn about a wide range of science from many different scientists from your home, and now is the best time to do it!

This week is National Science Week, and even though many of us are staying at home under COVID restrictions, you can still get involved in numerous events happening Australia wide. For many scientists and science communicators like myself, National Science Week is one of the busiest but most exciting weeks of the year. We get to engage with people just like you to share our passions for our research and answer some great (and often curly) questions. 

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I like to take this week to share my passion for the skies but from a perspective that many Australian’s may not know a lot about – Aboriginal astronomy. I am a very proud Wiradjuri woman and the astronomical knowledge of my ancestors is incredibly vast and beautiful. In Aboriginal astronomical traditions, the night sky is like a canvas for our stories. The stars, planets and the Milky Way galaxy illustrate countless stories and lessons from our culture. The stars can tell us when the weather is changing, the planets and the Moon allow us to navigate at night, and some stars are like a seasonal menu, indicating the best time of year to find certain foods. 

There are hundreds of Aboriginal cultures around Australia, and each of them have their own unique perspective of the night sky. In Wiradjuri culture, the Milky Way is known as billabang and is a representation of a series of water holes. Other Aboriginal traditions see the Milky Way as the smoke from the campfires of the old spirits. It’s incredibly diverse perspectives like these that make up the astronomical knowledge of Aboriginal culture that I love.

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Australia should be proud of our rich astronomical heritage, which has lasted more than 65,000 years. If you’d like to learn more, I’d be thrilled to have you join me on one of many webinars that are available during National Science Week. And if you’d like to learn more science from your home, peruse the National Science Week website and find events that are just right for you! 

Monday 17 August: 65,000 Years of Australian Aboriginal Astronomy with Kirsten Banks hosted by ANU Astronomical Society. 

Tuesday 18 August: Australian Indigenous Astronomy hosted by Goldfields Libraries