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Byron Shire
May 23, 2024

Turn off the lights and keep Byron in the dark

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Stars in their eyes… L-R: Dr David Malin, Dr Fred Watson, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki , Dylan O’Donnell, Dr Duane Hamacher, Mark Gee, Jamie Anderson, Dr Katie Mack & Dr Alan Duffy at a previous Star Stuff Festival in Byron Bay event. Photo: Kirrily Pendergast

Australia is known for a lot of big things like Ballina’s ‘Big Prawn’ and the ‘Big Banana’ in Coffs – but did you know that we also have the best view of a whole lot of ‘big’ things in space?

Local amateur astronomer Dylan O’Donnell who also organises Byron’s Star Stuff conference says that ‘We have the biggest naked eye galaxies, the brightest part of the Milky Way, the biggest nebulae, the biggest star clusters.’

Even the famous Dutch-American astronomer, Bart Bok, who lived in Australia for a long time said, ‘All the best stuff is in the Southern Hemisphere’.

To top it off we even have a crater of Mars named after our own local Cape Byron. Who knew? I certainly didn’t!

‘When the Opportunity rover passed by a long crater rim feature in 2010 the NASA science team named five points along it as “Cape Tribulation”, “Cape Byron”, “Cape Dromedary”, “Point Hicks” and “Torres Straight”,’ said Dylan.

‘This group of names is a collection of places visited by Captian Cook during his voyage to Australia in the 1700s.’

According to Dylan, northern hemisphere astronomers travel to our hemisphere on a regular basis just to see this unfamiliar night sky.

‘We take it for granted that we can easily see the Milky Way on a clear night. Most of the world can’t and never will.’

Australian skies the envy of the world

In a huge highlight for Dylan he is heading over to New York in April where he’s been invited to talk at NEAF (Northeast Astronomy Forum) – the largest astronomy conference in the world.

Dylan has been asked to talk ‘about how good it is to do astronomy from Australia,’ he said. ‘Only 22 per cent of the world’s population lives in the Southern Hemisphere but it’s widely considered to be the best hemisphere for astronomy. It’s a huge honour for a local amateur astronomer – with the (technically) most easterly observatory in Australia – to be sharing the stage with astronauts and NASA scientists.’

Dylan O’Donnell’s photo of the space station and the moon at the Hudson River Museum, New York for the Apollo 11, 50th anniversary.

In the dark

Keeping it dark will certainly be on the agenda and Dylan is keen to work with Byron Council to promote the case for local dark skies.

‘Saving Byron’s dark sky has three instant benefits,’ he said.

‘Nocturnal wildlife and insects will thrive, a massive amount of money will be saved, and we get to see space clearly. It would make our goal of living in a carbon neutral town closer by a huge margin without having to do anything difficult at all – just turn out the lights!’

Up in smoke

Another concept he will be talking about at the NEAF conference will be developing Byron Shire’s space tourism but if we light up too much this option will go up in smoke.

‘Currently the council has no control over street night lighting which is supplied by Essential Energy and has no off-switch. The electricity company would prefer the streetlights were on all the time, as that’s how they make money from Byron Shire Council,’ he said.

‘In London suburbs, a bustling city, they’ve been trialing turning the streetlights off after midnight and have reported huge savings in electricity and no increase in crime or accidents. Which makes sense – people sleep and cars have headlights.

‘Queensland is shaping up as a likely rocket launch site. It would make sense for Byron Bay to take the progressive and environmental step to turn off the lights – and reap the huge rewards of low-impact space tourism.

‘More importantly though, turning our heads to the stars is truly the cosmic spirit we are already known for around the world. We just need to make it literal.’

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  1. Untrue. When you say Australia is known … that means it is known OUTSIDE of Australia.
    It is known for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, the New Year’s Eve fireworks display, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and koalas and kangaroos.
    So the world-wide icon for Australia is mainly Sydney.

  2. What a GREAT IDEA.
    I would love to see the Stars but my street is flooded by bright streetlights every 50 m.
    when I complained to the Electricity company they said only the council could put shades on
    but it is against their policy.
    Passing the buck as usual.
    Its most concerning that once again ratepayers/taxpayer money is being wasted with the council having no control over street night lighting as the electricity company makes money from Byron Shire Council with the streetlights on all the time.
    This is bad for people’s health, wildlife and the environment.
    Wake up Byron Council!

  3. Can someone please enlighten me on what’s going on with the earth being flat or round sphere like object…….
    Personally……. I find it strange that everytime we look up at the moon, we can never see the round in the moon……. Get it! It’s obvious that we’re being fed a whole lot of whatever it is they choose to tell us…….. And why I ask!? Is it to maybe protect the theory of the whole god concept???

  4. I think you’d have to find the balance between the current lighting situation and low light. With no lighting, the crime rate tends to go up which is something we should probably avoid as the cost of policing will offset the power savings. Crime will also keep tourists away… I agree, with bright street lighting we miss out on the night sky, burn through power and it is more expensive. Perhaps the towns existing lighting infrastructure could be converted to low light alternatives in key locations. Hawaii would be a good base study into the infrastructure required to convert to a low light pollution society.

  5. I agree completely with the authors of this story and how special our night sky is (I moved out here with a deep sky telescope partly for that reason) The negative impact on nocturnal creatures is also a big point. If the new Smart Lamps in Byron are so smart, why don’t they have a simple volume control? Maybe they do. They even generate light pollution up here on the ridge 20 mins away – clearly way too bright, and for what? To get a better exposure on surveillance cameras? Who knows. My heart goes out to the poor folks living underneath them who must surely feel as though they have been invaded by inconsiderate aliens. It’s a shame you can’t buy RF meters that register the coming 5G signal strength (but that’s another story).

    [You don’t have to print this because I don’t know what I’m talking about – it just doesn’t make sense. If I knew their agenda it probably would.]


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