MacDirectory Magazine

Pavel Prokopev

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Kirsten Banks - TikTok’s Rising-star Astrophysicist By Ric Getter With its short-form format, it is something of a video-Twitter without, quite thankfully, much of the politics TikTok quickly rose to become the social media breakout superstar platform of the 20s. It started out as a haven for tweens lip-syncing clips from their favorite songs and a showcase for odd stunts that take fifteen seconds or less to pull off (three minutes is now permitted). It has, however, become a lot more diverse in its content. Still, it would be one of the last places you would expect to learn about astronomy and astrophysics and, quite frankly, have a great deal of fun doing it. Enter @astrokirsten (AKA astrophysicist Kirsten Banks). While she was a graduate student in the astrophysics program and the University of New South Wales, she began working as an Astronomy Guide at the Sydney Observatory, a historic edifice dating back to the 1790s (though it didn’t begin its stargazing until the mid-1800s). There, she discovered how much she loved talking to non-scientists about science. And she was great at it. This led to a TEDx talk and an increasing number of appearances on national TV shows while she was working on her PhD. The pandemic (and her boyfriend) prompted her move to TikTok. The short, funny, high-energy and easily-digestible videos about space science garnered a worldwide audience and nearly a quarter-million followers in just over a year. A remarkably prolific producer, her subject matter is nearly as diverse as space itself, including news-making discoveries, amazing facts, debunking myths, and generally putting the infinite in perspective. Kirsten has brought her audience along during long nights of precious telescope time, sitting in front of a near-endless bank of monitors with more streams of numbers than fields of stars. When TikTok opened up a feature that allowed questions from viewers, it made for even more great TikToks. As a descendent of the Wiradjuri people, one of Australia’s many indigenous tribes, she’ll sometimes talk about how her nation’s first astronomers viewed and used the night sky for centuries before European settlers arrived and how the glow of city and suburban lights have blinded many of us to the true beauty of and messages from the heavens.

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