Australian novelist writes about life at University of Birmingham's solar observatories

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Dr Steven Hale (left), postgraduate student Eddie Ross and technician Les Bateman at the BiSON station in Carnarvon, Western Australia. Photo: Tracy Sorensen

Two of the University of Birmingham's most remote solar observatories are featured in a long-form essay, Staring At The Sun, by Australian novelist Tracy Sorensen, published on the Big Skies Collaboration blog.

Tracy travelled more than 5,000 kilometres from one side of Australia to the other to visit the helioseismology stations near the small towns of Carnarvon, in Western Australia, and Narrabri in north-western New South Wales, and to meet the people responsible for them. Along the way she met Steven Hale, instrumentation engineer at Birmingham’s Solar and Stellar Physics Group, and postgraduate student Eddie Ross. The result is a disarmingly honest piece of science writing by a non-scientist about the Birmingham Solar Oscillations Network (BiSON), which is likely to make you smile, even laugh-out-loud.

The Birmingham Solar-Oscillations Network (BiSON) is operated by the Solar and Stellar Physics Group at the University of Birmingham, UK. This world-wide network of six remote, ground-based telescopes provides round-the-clock monitoring of the globally coherent, core-penetrating modes of oscillation of the Sun. BiSON is funded by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

After reading the essay, Steven Hale, BiSON Instrumentation Engineer at the University of Birmingham, said: "My colleagues and I are proud of the work we do at the BiSON observatories at Carnarvon and Narrabri.  It was a real pleasure to read Tracy's account of her visits to our facilities. Tracy has done an amazing job of capturing the atmosphere at Carnarvon and Narrabri and the beauty of the clear inland skies.  I hope her essay inspires a sense of wonder in readers and encourages more people to take an astro-tourism holiday in south-eastern Australia."

The essay forms part of the Big Skies Collaboration, an open-source community-led initiative in south-eastern Australia’s rural inland where many of the country’s major research telescopes, private observatories and astro-heritage sites are located. It brings together astronomers, arts practitioners, and rural communities to celebrate people’s connections with the cosmos, inspire wonder and awe at the beauty of the dark inland sky, and catalyse new cultural, social, economic and educational opportunities for inland rural communities. The Collaboration is led by writer Dr Merrill Findlay, a professional associate with the University of Canberra’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Research.

Tracy Sorensen’s essay, Staring At The Sun, feeds into one of the Collaboration’s current initiatives, the Inland Astro-Trail, an astro-tourism, cultural heritage, sustainable development and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) project to link and promote Australia’s south-eastern observatories, including the BiSON dome at Narrabri, for the benefit of rural communities. The Inland Astro-Trail has the potential to attract thousands of visitors from Australia’s densely populated east coast and from overseas to experience the Inland’s very dark southern night skies and the full naked-eye glory of the Milky Way. Importantly, it also benefits First Nations communities who have been studying the night sky for at least 65,000 years.

July 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing. Carnarvon played important role in this historic achievement, with the OTC Satellite Earth Station Carnarvon providing satellite tracking and communications support.