COVID lockdown creates super clear skies for stargazers
Amateur astronomers are having a field day with the coronavirus lockdown bringing a sharp drop in pollution that is providing sparkling crystal-clear night skies.
"The benchmark for me is if you can see the fifth star of the Southern Cross," Sydney City Skywatchers president Toner Stevenson said. "And at the moment you can see that really beautifully."
Dr Stevenson said the drop in pollution and the dimming of lights in unused sports grounds and office blocks in the city was opening up the night sky to stargazers.
It is an unexpected benefit to the coronavirus lockdown that has been noticed across the world with the Himalayas now visible from India and Pakistan for the first time in 30 years and NASA satellite images showing significant declines in nitrogen dioxide.
It has led to blue waters in the canals of Venice, a 180 per cent improvement in air quality in Manila in the Philippines and scientists across the globe reporting a drop in seismic activity - noise from transport and human activity - by as much as 50 per cent.
Senior principal research scientist at CSIRO Climate Science Centre Melita Keywood said the reaction to COVID-19 reduced combustion by vehicles, industry, power generation and dust from mining, building and transportation.
"It is very likely that there will be a global slowdown of greenhouse gas emissions, in particular carbon dioxide emissions, due to reduced energy consumption," she said.
In Sydney, that has led to sparkling clear days with the Blue Mountains clearly visible from the city.
Associate Professor Geoff Morgan from the University of Sydney school of public health said: "Air pollution affects visibility so I would expect people to see the effects of a reduction in that quite quickly.
"There are also marked health benefits for people with respiratory and cardiovascular disease with an improvement in air quality. These are the very people who suffer most from COVID-19."
Geoff Wyatt, education program producer at Sydney Observatory, said the sparkling night skies had come at the prime time of year for amateur astronomers.
"For the last few nights the sky has been absolutely lovely," he said.
"The lack of pollution coincides with the best time of year for astronomy."
Just after dusk it is possible to see Scorpius rising in the east and Venus and Orion in the west. Early risers can see Jupiter, Saturn and Mars grouped together.
"It will only get better and I think in about a month's time it will be possible to see the milky way even from Sydney's suburbs," he said.
But while amateur stargazers are having a field day, the professionals are tearing their hair out in frustration because the COVID-19 lockdown has closed all the major observatories in NSW.
"It is absolutely heartbreaking," Sydney Institute for Astronomy director Joss Bland-Hawthorn said.
"The telescopes have all closed down because there are 20 to 30 people using them at a time.
"Amateur astronomers are enjoying it because there is less pollution but is heartbreaking that we cannot be looking when we have these beautiful clear skies."
Originally published as COVID lockdown creates super clear skies for stargazers