Kirsten Banks is a proud Wiradjuri woman and mad about all things space and astronomy. From uncovering the secrets and discoveries of the original first people astronomers to educating others to look up and appreciate what’s above. She’s an Australian astrophysicist and science communicator of Wiradjuri ancestry; known for her work in promoting mainstream and Aboriginal astronomy. Kirsten is my guest after 8am this morning.
Kirsten’s ultimate goal in life is to become a famous Science Communicator, so she takes advantage of media engagement opportunities as they happen, but Kirsten’s favourite place to be is in front of people giving public talks. Kirsten speaks regularly at Sydney Observatory, has presented at numerous conferences, and loves to present Aboriginal Astronomy workshops during and outside of NAIDOC Week and National Science Week. Kirsten has also branched out to the written word with science writings. She was twice published in the Guardian Australia’s Opinions section before the age of 21. Aboriginal Australians were our first astronomers “Indigenous Australians were the first people on our continent to look up and take meaning from the night sky, and while a lot of it is spiritual, there is science in it as well. I just released a research paper on the role of planets in Aboriginal astronomy, and the Wardaman people talk about the planets being spirits that walk the path in the sky both forward and backwards, and when I read that story a few times over I realise ‘backwards moving planets? Ah, retrograde motion’, which is a modern scientific concept. It’s really cool that they were able to take meaning from the stars and the planets without telescopes or technology.”
Nullarbor Roadhouse is the best place to look at the stars “My family and I did the longest golf course in the Southern Hemisphere, the Nullarbor
Golf Course, which goes from Ceduna in South Australia to Kalgoorlie. This place has a pub, a service station, a motel, a caravan park, one street light – and that’s it. The night we were there the main generator backed out, so all the lights turned off, and I cried. It was that incredible. We saw thousands of stars and this milkiness in the sky. I could even see some deep-sky objects like the Orion Nebula and the Pleiades.”
The Emu in the Sky is like a seasonal menu in the heavens “You use the dark parts of the
Milky Way to manifest this huge image of an emu that stretches over more than half of the night sky. In my country, Wiradjuri country, we use it as a tool to let us know when to find emu eggs. When it’s in the eastern side of the sky after the sun goes down, it kind of looks like it’s running along the horizon, which tells us that the emus are now running around trying to make a nest. Later in the year the body comes up to the top of the sky it looks like an egg in a nest, which tells us that now’s the right time to go looking for emu eggs.”
The universe makes gold “All the gold on people’s wedding rings was formed in a neutron star collision. Last year astronomers and scientists released media about two neutron stars colliding, and in this particular collision about ten Earth masses of gold was created. That’s gold to the size of ten of our planets! If you were to value that amount of gold it would cost about 100 octillion dollars – that’s a one with 29 zeros. Imagine that in $2 coins and you’d get a stack long enough to stretch from Earth to the point where these two stars collided, and back again, 5,000 times.” You should always look up “Earlier this week I saw two meteors fall out of the sky. I was walking by moonlight with my friends near Port Botany and we saw a space rock fall through our atmosphere, a falling star.
Physics for me is understanding that magic of the universe.” Early life Kirsten's fascination with the sky started at a very young age. In Primary School she was intrigued by the weather and dreamed of becoming a meteorologist however, it wasn't until year 10 when Kirsten's true passion for the stars developed. After watching the Hubble Documentary at Sydney's IMAX Theatre with her peers, Kirsten was hooked on space and astronomy and thus begun her journey to the stars.
Graduating from HSC at Davidson High School (or Davo for short) in 2014, with the honour of Most Outstanding Student, awarded to a student who has contributed above and beyond to the school in all areas of participation; and the Ruben F Scarf Award, awarded to the student who has received the most merit points over the entire six-year period of High School.
Kirsten began her astrophysics career with a Bachelor of Science at the University of New South Wales in 2015. Majoring in Physics, Kirsten learnt about the fundamental workings of the Universe from the smallest atoms to the largest galaxies. She graduated from this program in 2018 and decided that more study was the next step for her, so she enrolled into the Physics Honours program at UNSW. Over 2019 Kirsten studied the evolution of the biggest and brightest galaxies in the Universe and was awarded 1st Class Honours upon completion. Prior to completing this program, Kirsten was accepted into the Scientia PhD program at UNSW and awarded a Scientia Scholarship to continue her studies of the Universe beginning in 2020.
Kirsten loves to share her passion for space and astronomy. Her career in science communication began when she was awarded an Astronomy Guide position at Sydney Observatory in 2015. In this role, Kirsten gained many new skills that have helped her become the wonderful communicator that she is today. You can find Kirsten expressing her love for the Universe around every turn. She speaks at many large scale events, as well as on television and radio.
CALL TO ACTION: National Science Week runs from the 14th to the 22nd of August. To find online events, virtual experiences, or activities you can do in your own home, just google National Science Week or go to scienceweek.net.au