If your interests run to stars, supernovae, constellations and ‘cannibal’ galaxies (a thing, apparently), you are going to love NSW’s astro-tourism experiences - from the country’s largest optical telescopes and the world’s biggest ‘virtual solar system drive’ to quirky astro-themed accommodation.
The State strengthened its position as Australia’s astro-tourism capital with the certification of the country’s first Dark Sky Park at Warrumbungle National Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). The certification recognises the exceptional quality of the park’s nocturnal environment, which has made it a magnet for professional and amateur astronomers.
From the capital of astronomy at Coonabarabran to Outback stargazing at Broken Hill, here are 10 out-of-this-world astro-experiences in NSW.
1. Astronomy capital of Australia
Coonabarabran is known as the astronomy capital of Australia: the launching pad for Siding Spring, Australia’s premier optical and infrared observatory, Milroy Observatory and the Warrumbungle National Park. Siding Spring has several telescopes, including the world-famous Anglo-Australian Telescope, which has a 3.9m-diameter mirror, and a visitor centre with a small astronomy exhibition. Meanwhile, at Milroy, guests can join research astronomer Donna on a kid-friendly tour discovering the Southern Hemisphere's night skies.
2. Solar System Drive
Marvel at the world’s largest virtual solar system drive, a daytime experience featuring 3D planet models along prescribed routes, imitating a scale model of the solar system. There are five drives, departing from Dubbo, Birriwa, Merriwa, Tamworth and Bellata, finishing at Siding Spring Observatory, aka the Sun.
3. Bathurst Observatory
The Bathurst Observatory Research Facility offers great live views of some of the wonders of our solar system, along with special solar telescope tours to view the sun. In 2019, the observatory was moved to a new site at Billywillinga near Bathurst, so check the website for future tour dates, prices and times.
4. Skywatch Observatory Domestays
Enjoy astronomy-themed experiences across the State, such as sleeping under the stars in astro-accommodation at Skywatch Observatory Domestays in Coonabarabran, or playing astro-mini golf at Dubbo Observatory.
5. Mudgee Observatory
Stargaze above the vines at the Mudgee Observatory, located a 15min drive outside the food and wine town of Mudgee in Central NSW. The observatory has several telescopes as well as a theatre and flat-screen planetarium that shows features on the night sky and space missions.
6. Dubbo Observatory
Located just behind Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo Observatory has five powerful telescopes to view the night sky, including a 14-inch Meade LX200-GPS (that will mean something to somebody). There are solar-viewing shows during the day and stargazing sessions at 7pm during Winter (twice nightly in the school holidays).
7. Blue Mountains Stargazing
Join an astrophysicist for a night-time tour of the skies. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, Dr Dimitri Douchin from Blue Mountains Stargazing hosts two tours, one starting just after sunset and a dark sky tour starting 90min later (times vary depending on the season). Held at the stunning Wentworth Falls Lookout, you'll get to look through a professional-grade telescope, identify stars and planets, and ask all your burning astronomy questions.
8. Parkes Observatory
The visitors centre at Parkes Observatory is open every day, giving visitors the opportunity to view the iconic ‘Dish’ first-hand. The observatory played a crucial role in the Apollo 11 Moon landing, receiving and broadcasting live images from the mission.
Every October long weekend, Siding Spring Observatory hosts StarFest, an open-day event celebrating all things astronomy. Visitors can tour the telescopes, hear talks by world renowned astronomers and learn more about Australia’s premier astronomical research facility.
10. Broken Hill Outback Astronomy
The vast desert plains of Outback NSW provide the perfect blank canvas for stargazing. Outback Astronomy in Broken Hill offers nightly tours (weather dependent) for novice stargazers. The 60-minute tour gives participants an introduction to famous stars, constellations and nebulae during a virtual ‘cruise’ across the Milky Way.