Profile of an Astronomer

Tanya Hill

Tanya at the prime focus of the
Anglo-Australia Telescope.

Tanya Hill

Melbourne Planetarium

You could say that my interest in astronomy began when I was quite small. I was actually afraid of the dark and I remember my dad telling me stories about the stars and pointing out constellations like the Southern Cross, Scorpious and the Saucepan in Orion. Looking at the night sky became something of a habit. A second key moment was in 1986 when Comet Halley appeared in our sky. It was the first time I used a telescope and while I wasn't so impressed with the comet, what did amaze me was the number of stars I could now see. I wanted to know what else was out there hidden from view.

So astronomy became a hobby of mine, but I never really considered it as a career until I was in the third year of my Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Sydney. I was offered a 3 month vacation job to work with Dr Charlene Heisler at the Anglo-Australian Observatory. In that summer I discovered the possibility of a career in astronomy. I got to use the Anglo-Australian Telescope, the biggest optical telescope in Australia - now I was really seeing the sky! Best of all, I discovered a great friend and mentor. With Charlene, I went on to do an honours project investigating a wimpy dwarf galaxy by the name of SDIG and then a PhD thesis looking at more energetic or active galaxies.

During my PhD, I used the three big telescopes in Australia - the Anglo-Australian Telescope, the Parkes Radio Telescope and the Australia Telescope Compact Array - as well as a few smaller ones to study galaxies at optical, near-infrared and radio wavelengths. I also travelled to Mexico and France to present my research at international conferences.

I started working part-time at Sydney Observatory and it was here that my passion for astronomy education began to develop. This was a job where not only did I get to use a telescope every night, but I was able to introduce people to their first view of the night sky and field all kinds of questions about astronomy and the Universe.

This has led me to a job I really enjoy. In 1999, I took up the role of astronomer at the Melbourne Planetarium. I work mostly behind the scenes developing shows for the public and school audiences. The Planetarium shows run for 30 minutes and are a mixture of video animation, slide images, surround sound and the Digistar - a digital star projector with amazing 3D capabilities. It's a unique job that lets me combine my research knowledge of astronomy and my experience as a science communicator, with new skills in the area of making high-tech movies. I hope that through my work people will be inspired to look up at the night sky and join with me in wondering what is out there.

See the ASA Factsheet on How to become an Astronomer for more information on life as an astronomer and more profiles of Australian Astronomers.

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