Leave the city behind you and you will discover that even the landscape of the night sky changes, especially when you enter the Cape’s Great Karoo.
Light pollution is the glow or glare from artificial light in cities or large communities of people living together which decreases our visibility at night making it difficult to see the detail of the stars, moon and expanses of night sky.
In the wide-open spaces of the Karoo where the population density is at its lowest in the Western Cape, there is no better place to stop, rest and gaze in silence at the vast velvet skies glittering and gleaming down at you with stars from galaxies millions of miles away.
The best part about stargazing is there is no low season or high season; in the Karoo’s desert-like expanses, astronomy can be enjoyed year-round.
One of the choicest places to view the stars and learn about their orbits is in the beautiful heritage town of Prince Albert.
When staying @ De Bergkant Lodge, the star in the town’s hospitality crown, owners Michael and Renate will insist you take a tour of the Southern Hemisphere with local astronomy experts Hans and Tilanie Daehne of Astro Tours.
According to the Daehne’s, Africa’s Big 5 wildlife game is mirrored in our southern skies which feature a Big 5 of celestial significance, namely Sirius, the brightest star, Alpha Centauri, the closest double star, Omega Centauri, the largest globular cluster, Jewel Box, the most beautiful open cluster and Tarantula, the closest galaxy.
Confirming the galactic show, De Bergkant Lodge’s owner Michael says: “We found the tour absolutely fascinating and an eye-opener to what is happening above us. What is also top notch service is that many of De Bergkant Lodge’s guests are Swiss or German and Astro Tours offers tours in both English and German making it even more accessible to our international travellers.”
Tilanie and Hans are long time locals themselves who say that after investigating more than 33 venues over a period of three years, they decided to settle in Prince Albert to pursue and share their passion in some of the bright skies at night.
Promising to take you to the stars and back, Hans and Tilanie say: “Prince Albert offers the most tourist friendly stargazing because it has a dry climate with about five out of seven cloudless nights per week, and its centrally situated for day visits to other attractions.”
For De Bergkant Lodge' guests interested in further investigation or as part of a special group tour, Sutherland’s SALT project houses the largest single optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.
Considered one of the world’s prime stargazing destinations, the small town of Sutherland is just 256 kilometres away and is the official observation station of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO).
What makes Sutherland so special is that it is strategically positioned and pollution-free where visitors can view the night sky through two dedicated visitor telescopes.
The SALT telescope works on a Square Kilometre Array (SKA) which is made up of an array of modern radio telescopes with a series of antennae. Using a technique called interferometry, they behave as a single dish, with a total collecting area of all the antennas combined making up one square kilometre for the SKA.
Collected data is used to understand how stars and galaxies are formed, and how they evolved over time. Who’s to say they might not be the next entrance portal for detecting and connecting with other life within our galaxies.
Alien life aside, looking up at the night skies and better understanding our galaxy recently got a boost from global experts and international science media with the announcement of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, which has just produced the first ever direct image of a black hole.
The results tell us that black holes identified into three types: stellar black holes, supermassive black holes and intermediate black holes, are not just black abysses; rather they can emit huge jets of plasma where their immense gravity pulls in streams of matter into its core.
Albert Einstein first predicted black holes in 1916 with his general theory of relativity. While scientists have known of the existence of black holes it was only indirectly, and some scientist who without visual proof even denied they existed, until now that is.
Using eight connected radio telescopes on several continents focused on the same place as the same time, scientist created an Earth-size telescope, the EHT.
Together with the ability to observe and collect data, this first image of this intermediate sized black hole has proved they do exist and its estimated to be one of over 100 million black holes in the Galaxy.
Book a night out with the stars
According to Astro Tours, the region around Prince Albert is as dark as Sutherland, making it the perfect opportunity to adventure into the galaxy of the heavens above.
Surrounded by the beauty of the Swartberg Mountains you are guaranteed of being spoilt by the luxury of De Bergkant Lodge’s leisure-filled days where you can sunbathe during the day and moon-bathe at night.