The first Australian woman to discover two comets is committed to popularising astronomy, especially among country kids.

Story Virginia Tapscott  Photos Josh Smith

Beneath a famously dark, glittering night sky, Donna Burton is leaning into a telescope and sitting as still as the black pines in the bush beyond. Her mind is millions of miles away, 13,050 light years to be exact, wandering through a 12 billion-year-old star cluster. She is watching a white dwarf being sucked into a black hole – it’s known as the binary in 47 Tucanae and it’s one of her favourites. “It’s believed to be the core of an older galaxy, after all its outer stars had been sucked into the other galaxy, which it now appears to orbit,” she explains. “Those galaxies will merge with our own galaxies in thousands of millions of years’ time.” In other words, she is perhaps watching the eventual fate of our own galaxy and planet. 

Her telescope is barely visible in the inky black shadows of her backyard in the middle of Warrumbungle National Park. Oblivious to the night chorus erupting from the surrounding bush, she moves to refocus and reposition, endlessly combing the heavens.

The full version of this story was published in both OUTBACK magazine and the 2019 edition of our special one-shot magazine Great Australians.

This story excerpt is from Issue #134

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2021