THE EMU IN THE SKY
A high-quality poster of this magnificent
Purchasing this Poster
Prices are in Australian dollars. If you live outside Australia, please also click on the button for "extra postage" above. Postage, packing, and Insurance comes to a total of $8.00 for Australia, $28.00 international, regardless of how many posters you buy, and will be added when you go to the checkout page.
(If the shipping seems a bit high to you, that's because the posters are printed on high-quality 250gsm paper. So just one poster and its mailing tube weighs 300g!)
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About this picture
Many Aboriginal groups have stories about the “Coalsack” – the famous dark cloud next to the Southern Cross. Some see it as the head of a lawman, or a possum in a tree, but many groups tell stories of a great emu whose head is the Coalsack, and whose neck, body, and legs are formed from dust lanes stretching across the Milky Way. It’s easy to make out the emu in a dark autumn sky, and once you’ve seen it, the Milky Way will never look the same again.
Below it is the emu engraving, one of thousands of finely constructed engravings drawn by the Guringai people hundreds of years ago, and still visible in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, north of Sydney. Sadly, the Guringai people vanished soon after the arrival of the British in 1788.
A few years ago, Hugh Cairns of Sydney University pointed out that this engraving looks more like the Emu in the Sky than a real emu. Furthermore, the Aboriginal artists oriented the engraving to line up with the Emu in the Sky at just that time of year when real-life emus are laying their eggs. To illustrate this, Ray and Barnaby decided to take a photo of the engraving with the Emu in the Sky correctly positioned above it. The poster shows the constellation positioned above the engraving as it appears in real life in Autumn.
Photographing these engravings is tricky. The grooves are shallow and frequently obscured by natural undulations in the rock. Received wisdom is to photograph them at sunrise or sunset, when the low angle of the Sun outlines the grooves with shadows. But we can’t always wait for sunset, and even then the resulting photo is likely to be marred by shadows of nearby trees.Instead, Barnaby and Ray decided to replace the Sun by a 1000 Joule studio flash (emitting something like 1MW of light), together with batteries and an inverter for use at remote sites. This low-angle flash technique took care of the engraving, but what about the sky?
Since the night sky in the National Park is now spoiled by the streetlights of nearby Sydney, they decided to photograph it from Siding Spring Mountain, near Coonabarabran. A further challenge is that the emu stretches half-way across the sky, so doesn’t fit in the field of view of a normal lens. A fish-eye lens on an equatorial mount would do the trick, but would distort the image, preventing a realistic comparison with the engraving. So instead they made a mosaic of smaller images that could be stitched together in software. Furthermore, by taking a series of short exposure images, they wouldn’t need an equatorial drive, as they could correct for sky rotation in software. Having taken the photos, Barnaby spent two months stitching the hundreds of images together, working out how to correct for the distortions and sky rotation while keeping the shape true to the projection seen by the human eye from the engraving site. The result was magnificent (see above) and in August 2007 won Barnaby a $2000 prize in the New Scientist Eureka science prizes.
About the photographer
Barnaby Norris is studying physics at Sydney University. He has also worked on a number of short films, music videos, and commercials, either as Director or Cinematographer. The short film Snow, for which he was Director of Photography, was one of 11 international short films, selected from thousands submitted, featured at the Cannes film festival in 2006.
Emu Dreaming is a registered Australian Business (ABN 19639499560), run by Cilla Norris. The goal of Emu Dreaming is to promote outreach and research in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy. All proceeds from sales on this website support research on Aboriginal Astronomy.
All material on this page © Ray and Cilla Norris 2009 except where otherwise indicated.