Stargazing world record attempt at the University of Sydney

21 May 2018
Astronomy lovers are banding together in an attempt to break a Guinness World Record for the most people stargazing at one time. With 285 registered star sites, the University of Sydney is set to be one of the busiest.

Update: ABC confirmed that over 40,000 people across at least 285 sites around Australia participated in the World Record attempt for number of people stargazing across multiple sites. Despite exact figures still being finalised due to the sheer volume of participants, commentators were able to confirm with confidence that a new Guinness World Record had been secured.

The University of Sydney will host a Star Party on Wednesday 23 May, as part of a Guiness World Record attempt for the most people stargazing across multiple locations.

Led by the ABC in partnership with The Australian National University (ANU), the World Record attempt seeks to exceed 7,960 stargazers across 37 locations. The aim is to defend the title by achieving a record signficantly higher than the current record set by ANU in 2015.

The University of Sydney hopes to add significantly to the stargazing tally with almost 2,000 people registered for the party. The Camperdown campus will transform for the night with food trucks and a stage for astronomy presentations all adding to the atmosphere.

Ahead of the event, physics PhD students and guest speakers Kathryn Ross and Petr Lebedev discussed what attendees can expect on the night. 

What to watch out for

“During the star party both Saturn and Jupiter will be making an appearance, although Saturn will only rise towards the end of the party at around 7:50pm,” said Kathryn.

To differentiate between stars and planets Kathryn and Petr suggest stargazers consider colour, brightness, shape and movement.

“Saturn appears yellowish, while Jupiter glows white. Planets will also appear more disc-like in shape depending on light pollution,” explained Kathryn.

Petr added: “The planets are a lot closer to us than the stars, so they look brighter. The five planets you can see with the naked eye are, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.”

The word ‘planet’ actually comes from a Greek word meaning "wanderer.” So, if you see an object move across the sky, it’s probably a planet and not a star.
Petr Lebedev, PhD candidate, Faculty of Science

“The moon will also be just past its half phase (so in its first quarter),” said Kathryn. “This is my favourite phase because it’s enough that you can see the details of craters but it’s not as bright as a full moon which means our eyes can see dimmer objects in the sky.”

“Our Earth is protected from most meteorite strikes because they burn up and slowdown in our atmosphere. There’s no atmosphere on the moon so the meteorite strikes do a lot more damage and create huge craters on the moon,” said Petr.

Avid stargazers will also be able to point out a number of constellations.

“Constellations are lines that humans have imagined between stars. Many are parts of mythological stories, and different cultures have different constellations. The seasons will determine which constellations we can see at any given time,” said Petr.

Kathryn suggested that early in the night astronomers will be able to spot the constellation Orion, the mighty hunter, in the West before it sets and Scorpion rises.

“These two constellations are at completely opposite sides of the night sky so no matter where you are on Earth, it is impossible to see both constellations completely above the horizon. Centaurus (the host constellation of Alpha Centaurus) will also be up in the sky as will the Southern Cross.”

The moon will also be just past its half phase, in its first quarter

Tips for stargazers

  1. Practice! The more you go out and look at the night sky, the more familiar you become with it.
  2. It always useful to get as far away from city lights as possible, the light pollution makes star gazing very difficult.
  3. Clear nights with good weather and atmospheric conditions are also very important.
  4. Clouds are an optical astronomers worst nightmare, not to mention rain – you don’t want to destroy your equipment.
  5. Download a star gazing app. They can overlay constellations, planets and the moon onto the sky using your camera as well as tell you the times and places the planets will rise.

Why science communication is so important

Alongside their research, Kathryn and Petr are both passionate science communicators who seek to promote the wonders of physics to young students.

“The best part about astronomy today is that we are now, for the first time in our history, able to produce technologies and methods so advanced we can learn about our universe in such intricate detail.

“And yet, the more we learn about astronomy, the more we realise we have no idea about our universe. I love the mystery associated with astronomy,” said Kathryn.

“Astronomy is both incredibly complex and confusing while also beautiful and accessible no matter what age you are.”

The University of Sydney Star Party is sold out. Tune in to Stargazing Live on the ABC on Wednesday 23 May from 8pm. The final instalment of the show will take place the following night, Thursday 24 May.

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