Welcome to Cosmic Quest: Discovering Astronomy Through Science and Culture
Earth | © NASA
Astronomy is the oldest and most far-reaching science. Its goal
is to understand the nature of existence and humanity's place in the cosmos. Sound like a
big question? It is, and people have been asking it for thousands of years.
We explore our universe in many ways. Whether we're
building telescopes and studying galaxies, or telling stories about the stars
and their place in our lives, we're trying to understand where we fit in the
This site explores the many ways that people look at
the sky. Check out the latest scientific discoveries or experience artistic
works inspired by the stars. See how the stars are important to indigenous
peoples, including the Indigenous Australians, the Anishinabe of Central North
America, and the Blackfoot of the North American Plains.
Start exploring to find out how the stars affect you every day and
what both science and culture can teach us about our place in the cosmos.
This project is the result of an international collaboration
including museums and institutions from
Australia, and the United States.
The Indigenous Peoples Featured in this Project
The Indigenous Australians
At European contact there was no single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. Groups differed
in aspects of their cultural and social organisation, and in
the Northern Territory alone, over 100 different languages were spoken.
It is estimated that pre-1788 there were approximately 700 languages
spoken in Australia and the Torres Strait.
Existence of widespread social networks meant that people had to be
multilingual to communicate. The Arrernte group of Central Australia
for example, could speak up to 10 languages / dialects.
Likewise, music and dance, kinship systems, art forms and ceremonies
differed dramatically between regions. Yet these differences were
probably less important than the underlying similarities which brought
groups together for ceremonies, for trade, to intermarry, and which
allowed the maintenance of myths, and song lines and exchange cycles
that extended over hundreds of kilometres. Even today regional
variations remain; there is no one Aboriginal society and people in
different regions tend to emphasise their own distinctness and identity.
From aboriginalart.com.au/culture - a product of the Aboriginal Art and
Culture Centre, Alice Springs, NT, Australia
Veronica Patlas, Untitled. | © Verinica Patlas.
Indigenous Australian Sky Stories
The Anishinabe of Central North America
"Anishinabe" means "the people" in the Algonquin language. The Ojibway people of Canada who
live in northwestern Ontario, Manitoba (east of Lake Winnipeg, the interlake area, and parts
of the northern prairie region), and Saskatchewan use the word to refer to themselves.
Sky stories of the Anishinabe are part of a complex system of spiritual beliefs. Knowledge
of the stars is found in many aspects of culture including storytelling, symbolism and
Some spiritual leaders have special knowledge of the stars and the planets. In ancient times,
these indigenous astronomers used this knowledge to help guide the day-to-day affairs of
The Anishinabe have been given ways of communicating with the powerful heavenly forces. The
oral teachings and stories which flow out of this communication between mortals and the
spiritual world have been passed down from generation to generation since the beginning of
time. For example, one of the most powerful symbols for the life force is the Sun. The need
for its presence for survival is stressed in the ancient story called "Snaring the Sun."
Story telling around a campfire. | The Manitoba Museum
To this day, the stories of the Anishinabe of Central North America featured in this project
are remembered and told by respected storytellers. With the coming of the first snow, families
gather around their elders during the long winter evenings, and the time for storytelling
begins. In the summertime, when the plants are awakened and the animals are roaming about,
these stories are not told, as the plant and animal "beings" might hear and be offended.
The storytellers speak of these things only in the winter when the spirits are resting.
Stories of the Anishinabe of the North American Plains
The Blackfoot of the North American Plains
The Blackfoot people live in the northern Plains in Alberta, Canada, and Montana,
USA. We are made up of three groups:
Although we all share a common language and culture, there are differences among our tribes
in some of our practices.
- The Siksika were usually found in the north and eastern part of the territory. This name translates as Blackfoot.
- The Kainai lived in the central part of the territory. Kainai means Many Leaders. We are also known as the Bloods.
- The Pikani camped along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and the southern edge of the territory. Today they are divided into the Amsskaapipikani (Southern Pikani) in Montana and the Apatohsipikani (Northern Pikani) in southwestern Alberta.
Traditionally, our people were nomadic. We travelled constantly throughout our Territory,
hunting game and collecting plants. In the past, we were not united in any formal alliance,
but because the three divisions often supported one another, many people referred to us as
the Blackfoot Confederacy. Today we live a modern life on four reserves in the United States
and Canada, and we work together to find ways to keep our culture alive.
Chief Mountain, Montana. The Rocky Mountains form the western boundary to our territory. | Chief Mountain
Sky Stories of the Blackfoot of the North American Plains