The 2010 World Travel Market (WTM) Global Trends Report states that 50% of the world’s population can no longer see stars, and this is worsening as more areas receive electricity. In the southern hemisphere, there are two-thirds more stars than in the northern hemisphere. And it is easier to view them in South Africa, as there is less air and light pollution in the southern hemisphere, in comparison with big cities in Europe and America.
The Square Kilometre Array project is helping to generate interest in space and astronomy, but the subject doesn’t generate as much publicity as it should. This project means a great deal to the country – not only in terms of science, but also the economy.
South Africa is fast gaining a reputation as a leading stargazing destination, but the stars don’t come out just for people in the country’s most remote areas. Just outside Johannesburg in Gauteng it is possible to see some of the most beautiful objects in the sky, without travelling too far out of the city.
Maropeng in the Cradle of Human Kind World Heritage Site hosts regular stargazing evenings, led by Maropeng’s resident astronomer, Vincent Nettmann. Here the public can view some of the southern sky’s most spectacular objects.
This event includes welcome drinks at the Maropeng Boutique Hotel, a delicious three-course dinner and a 45-minute presentation about space, accompanied by beautiful photographs taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. Then Nettmann and his assistants take visitors on a laser-guided tour of the sky, and you can view these objects through large-range aperture telescopes.
Guests are able to combine the event with an overnight stay at the Maropeng Boutique Hotel.
Depending on the season, and if it is a clear evening, you can see various globular and open clusters, planets, gas clouds and sometimes even a galaxy.
This is the beauty of stargazing: there is always something new to see depending on what time of the year you are looking into the skies.
On a clear late summer evening, it is possible to view the planet Jupiter and the four Galilean moons; they are the largest of the many moons of Jupiter and among the most massive objects in the solar system apart from the sun.
With the help of a telescope, you can also see the Orion Nebula, one of the brightest nebulae visible to the naked eye in the night sky; the jewel box star cluster, one of the youngest known with an estimated age of only 14 million years; and Alpha Centauri, the brightest star in the southern constellation of Centaurus. The blockbuster movie Avatar is set on a fictional planet, Pandora, which is supposed to be orbiting this star.