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Aboriginal astronomy

By HSCStudyLab_admin on | July 04, 2016

National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NADOIC) week is this week from the 3rd to the 10th of July.

In celebration of this week, which is about recognizing the contributions of Indigenous Australians, we wanted to share some research about the traditions and links between Aboriginal culture and astronomy.

According to a recent research paper by Leaman et al. (2016) tracking food sources in Aboriginal society is closely linked to astronomy.

In the paper by Leaman et al., they researched the link between Australian animals including the emu, crow, black cockatoo, kangaroo, dingo and eagle and their associated stars, galaxies or planets. (Leaman et al. 2016).

Leaman et al. found that the season of visibility and the rising and setting of stars directly correlated to the mating and birth periods of the associated animals (2016).

For example the emu is associated with the Coalsack Nebula, a dark nebula, located near the Southern Cross. Aboriginal people also thought the nebula resembles the profile of an emu’s head. The dingo is linked to the star Achernar, a star we discussed in Preliminary Physics Module 4, Focus 4, Lesson 1 “Stars” and HSC Physics Module 3 Focus 2 Lesson 1 “The nature of electromagnetic waves” (Leaman et al. 2016).

Leaman et al. (2016) found that the Aboriginal people from Ooldea, (a traditional land of the Kokatha peoples in South Australia) selected stars that matched the breeding cycles of the animals they symbolized. This is in turn helped them to understand these animals and the best times to hunt them as food sources.

HSC Study Lab has a range of lessons covering stars including:

Preliminary Physics
Module 3 Focus 4 Lesson 1 “Stars”

Outcomes covered:

  • Define the relationship between the temperature of a body and the dominant wavelength of the radiation emitted from that body
  • Identify that the surface temperature of a star is related to its colour
  • Gather secondary information to relate brightness of an object to its luminosity and distance
  • Solve problems to apply the inverse square law of intensity of light to relate the brightness of a star to its luminosity and distance from the observer

HSC Physics
Module 3 Focus 2 Lesson 1 “The nature of electromagnetic waves”

Outcomes covered:

  • Describe Hertz’s observation of the effect of a radio wave on a receiver and the photoelectric effect he produced but failed to investigate
  • Identify Planck’s hypothesis that radiation emitted and absorbed by the walls of a black body cavity is quantised
  • Identify Einstein’s contribution to quantum theory and its relation to black body radiation
  • Identify data sources, gather, process and analyse information and use available evidence to assess Einstein’s contribution to quantum theory and its relation to black body radiation
  • Process information to discuss Einstein’s and Planck’s differing views about whether science research is removed from social and political forces

References

Leaman, T., Hamacher, D.W., & Carter, M. 2016, ‘Aboriginal Astronomical Traditions from Ooldea, South Australia, Part 2: Animals in the Ooldean Sky’, journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 61-78.

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