A new study has supported the assertion that aboriginal Australians were active observers of the night sky and incorporated significant astronomical events into their oral traditions.
In their paper, astronomers Duane Hamacher and David Frew from the Macquarie University present strong evidence that the Boorong people near Lake Tyrell in northwestern Victoria observed a "supernova-impostor" event in the 19th century, which they incorporated into their oral traditions.
This "supernova-impostor" refers to Eta Carinae, an enigmatic, super-massive binary star system prone to periodic violent outbursts.
"In the 1840s, Eta Carinae underwent a significant outburst, termed the Great Eruption, that released nearly as much energy as a supernova", said Mr. Frew.
During this time, Eta Carinae was the brightest star in the night sky after Sirius, before it faded from view 20 years later.
The Boorong observed and incorporated this event into their oral history and later shared their astronomical knowledge with the Victorian pastoralist and philanthropist, William Stanbridge, who presented a paper on Boorong astronomy to the Philosophical Institute of Victoria in 1857.
The Boorong prided themselves on knowing more about astronomy than any other Aboriginal group and their observations represent the first and only definitive indigenous record of Eta Carinae's Great Eruption identified in the historical and scientific literature to date.
Mr. Hamacher and Mr. Frew concluded that Eta Carinae was not in Boorong oral history prior to its eruption. Instead, the outburst was incorporated in the 1840s, showing that Aboriginal oral traditions are dynamic and evolving and not static, as many people commonly think.
The study was published in the November issue of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage.