PRIME SPOT: An amateur Japanese astronomer views the night sky from the Ballandean observatory.
PRIME SPOT: An amateur Japanese astronomer views the night sky from the Ballandean observatory. Contributed

Ballandean a 'star' attraction for Japanese tourists

WE may not know it, but Ballandean is big in Japan.

Among amateur astronomers in Japan, Ballandean is seen as "the" place to visit.

Thanks to the area's clear, dark skies, the number of Japanese amateur astronomers visiting Ballandean has gradually increased.

"Between September and December every year, about 15 stargazers fly over from Japan to stay," Twinstar Guesthouse and Observatory operator Eiji Kato said.

"Some of them return to Ballandean a few times a year, staying for five to 10days at a time. Some of these visitors' photographs often appear in the major astronomical magazines in Japan."

As Ballandean's name began to appear more prominently in magazines, more amateurs have attempted to test the waters by travelling to the area themselves.

"The first-time visitors are literally star-struck by the sight of the bright southern Milky Way arching overhead in the unpolluted transparent sky.

"They often comment that they have never seen such a stunning view of the night sky in their lives.

"Sadly, the skies over Japan are brightened by unregulated artificial lights shining upwards, aggravated by fine dust particles flying over the Japan Sea from China," Mr Kato said.

How does the quality of the sky over Ballandean compare with the sky over major research observatories in Australia?

"The largest observatory complex in this country is Siding Spring Observatory at Coonabarabran, NSW. It is home to the Australian Astronomical Telescope, the largest optical telescope in this country.

"The measurements of the Ballandean sky darkness compare quite well with those taken at Siding Spring Observatory, particularly at zenith.

"Our neighbouring community of Glen Aplin is also an attractive place for amateur astronomers, with similarly dark skies. Glen Aplin, too, has private observatories where members of a Brisbane-based astronomical society do some serious research as well as visual observing of astronomical objects.

"Observing sessions for the society's members are regularly held there, taking advantage of the dark rural skies," Mr Kato said.

"These two observatories are not open to the public, but we hope that a third observatory dedicated to public viewing of the night sky will be built in this area by an interested amateur astronomer.

"It should also be noted that there are two asteroids bearing local names 10078 Stanthorpe and 15723 Girraween orbiting the Sun, which may strengthen the area's connection with the beautiful night sky."

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