Karlie Alinta Noon is the first indigenous woman in Australia to graduate with a double degree in maths and physics, an astronomer, of the Gamilaraay people, multiple award winner, 2019 Eureka Prize nominee, and one of the 2017 BBC’s 100 Women.  Photo:University of Newcastle

“Indigenous peoples around the world have understood the stars, tides and local ecosystems for hundreds of years but experts say their insights have often been overlooked. Now some female scientists are striving to highlight their achievements and collect the scientific heritage of their communities before it disappears.  The Yolngu people, she notes, knew that the tides varied depending on the phases of the moon. Her own people, the Kamilaroi, have a rich astronomical heritage, which Karlie did not encounter until her early 20s. The knowledge she has now collected shows a keen understanding of meteorology. A moon halo – a bright ring visible around the moon when there are ice crystals in the air – was used by indigenous peoples all over Australia as a weather predictor. Oral tradition tells of counting the number of stars between the moon and the halo, to indicate how much rain there would be. Fewer visible stars meant greater precipitation, which, Karlie agrees, would tally with the presence of more water vapour in the air.  Variable stars, whose brightness fluctuates over periods that can range from 100 – 200 years, are also described in stories.