Source: Museum Victoria
Early interest in astronomy
It may at first seem strange, but Tanya’s interest in astronomy began as a small child when she was afraid of the dark. Her father showed her the constellations of the Southern Cross, Scorpius and Orion to ward away the fears. A decade later, Tanya as a high school student had the chance to look through a telescope for the first time. The occasion was the return of Halley’s Comet to the sky. She was captivated by how many stars could be seen through the telescope’s eyepiece. It was just a tiny bit of the Universe but she was eager to see more.
As an undergraduate at Sydney University, Tanya successfully landed a vacation scholarship at the Anglo-Australia Observatory. She was thrilled to be working at the home of Australia’s largest telescope and the instrument used by famous astrophotographer Prof. David Malin to create stunning images of the Universe. She worked with an inspiring astronomer, Dr Charlene Heisler, who guided her from research student to postgraduate studies.
In 2002, Tanya graduated from her PhD in astrophysics at the University of Sydney. Her thesis proposed the question “How can we tell if a distant galaxy contains a supermassive black hole?” To find an answer she compiled a detailed study of 25 galaxies using a range of Australian telescopes including the Anglo-Australian Telescope, the Australia Telescope Compact Array, the Parkes Radio Telescope and the Tidbinbilla Radio Telescope. During the course of her work, she discovered clear evidence for supermassive black holes at the centre of five of these galaxies.
While studying for her PhD, Tanya also worked as a Guide Lecturer at Sydney Observatory. This is where her passion for science communication developed, as she led tours of the historic observatory and introduced others to their first glimpse of the stars and planets through a telescope.
Employment at the Melbourne Planetarium, Museum Victoria
Tanya moved from Sydney to Melbourne in January 1999 to take up her current position at the Melbourne Planetarium. She watched the Planetarium take shape at Scienceworks and learnt how to draw together its eclectic array of equipment to create entertaining planetarium shows. Tanya helped guide the Planetarium through its most recent upgrade to a fulldome system in 2005. Planetarium shows are now seamlessly projected onto the planetarium’s domed screen to produce an immersive experience like no other.
A dozen Planetarium shows have been created in Melbourne since 1999. A stand-out for Tanya is the 2007 production Black Holes: Journey into the Unknown, which draws together research from her postgraduate studies to bring to life all that is fascinating and extreme in the world of black holes.
Memberships and societies
In 2006, Tanya convened the 18th biennial meeting of the International Planetarium Society. It was the first time the Society had met in the Southern Hemisphere and over 300 delegates from 28 countries came together to discuss all things planetarium related. The conference was a great success and a highlight of Tanya’s planetarium career.
Tanya serves on a number of astronomical committees across Australia:
- Prizes and Awards Coordinator, Astronomical Society of Australia;
- International Year of Astronomy 2009 Advisory Committee;
- Monash University’s Centre for Stellar and Planetary Astrophysics Advisory Board;
- Astronomical Society of Australia’s Education and Public Outreach Chapter;
- Australasian Planetarium Society.
Tanya writes a monthly newsletter called Skynotes that can be picked up at the Melbourne Planetarium accessed online at the Melbourne Planetarium’s website. Its clear and easy style explains where to find the brightest planets in the night sky, provides details on the constellations and meteor showers visible each month, and highlights recent astronomical discoveries or upcoming events at the Melbourne Planetarium.
Each Thursday evening during March and August you will find Tanya at the Melbourne Planetarium doing what she loves best – chatting to the public about astronomy. These special after-dark sessions delve into the many mysteries of the night sky – from the furthest reaches of the Universe to how you can become a backyard astronomer yourself. Become immersed in a planetarium experience, get Tanya to answer all your space questions, enjoy a glass of wine with cheese, and finish the evening stargazing through telescopes (weather permitting).
Living Climate – new planetarium show
The Melbourne Planetarium team is busy working on a new planetarium show to be released in late 2009. Written by fellow MV curator Martin Bush, Living Climate will present a dramatic and different way of looking at climate and climate change. The Earth’s climate is alive. Since the planet was born, the climate has changed; with the passage of time, with the seasons, with the ebb and flow of life itself. Living Climate will bring together all that is known which makes our climate so special.
VCE Astronomy show
Together with Scienceworks' Program Coordinator Patricia Christies, Tanya has recently produced a planetarium show specifically for VCE astronomy students. This live astronomy presentation is designed to cover those areas of the curriculum that are best explained under the planetarium dome, including astronomical coordinate systems, the motion of the stars and planets, and the apparent movement of the Sun along the path of the ecliptic.
Astronomy in the media
Occasionally you will hear Tanya on the radio or read her comments in the newspaper discussing astronomical events. She is the person to speak to when an eclipse, new comet or other interesting phenomena is visible in the night sky or when new astronomical discoveries are made.