Stargazing in the Karoo – Explore the “High 5”

For generations the universe has fascinated mankind and that’s possibly the reason you may want to enjoy a night of stargazing in the Klein Karoo. Light polution is almost non existent, so the planets and stars are even more impressive to view here.


Even the days of the week have been named after the planets and moons and the Greeks have spent countless hours to “create” the majority of the constellations as we know it today. The ancient Egyptians are said to have lined up the Pyramids with the sky above to link the dead Pharaoh’s to the “Imperishable ones” above. Not only has the celestial bodies “influenced” life in the ancient civilised world, but the traditions of African tribes such as the Xhosa have been influenced by the stars. For centuries civilisations have used the stars and moon for navigation, and even tennis players have been named after planets……… And yet, we know so little!

Our City of Stars: It was once said that the only thing we know for sure about the universe is that there is an inside, nobody knows if there is an outside. Our cosmos is said to be approximately 15,000 – 20,000 million years old. Earth came into existence approximately 4,600 million years ago and underwent major changes since then. What observers can see today has evolved over many millions of years and is still changing by the minute. Our galaxy is commonly known as the Milky Way and is one of hundreds of millions of other galaxies that have been discovered over many years. Galaxies “normally” tend to group together and the Milky Way is one of a group of 30 galaxies. The Milky Way has two satellite galaxies that can be seen with the naked eye from the Southern Hemisphere, known as the Large and the Small Magellan Clouds. The small cloud is 205,000 and the large cloud 170,000 light years away. They each accommodate approximately 2,000 million and 10,000 million stars respectively. When conditions are very favourable another massive galaxy can be observed in the Northern Hemisphere. This galaxy is known as M31 or Andromeda and is 2,300,000 light years away. This is also the furthest object to be seen anywhere with the naked eye. M31 is twice the size of the Milky Way and has twice as many stars, therefore M31 is considered the largest galaxy in the group of 30.

Our Galaxy and Solar System: The sun and its planets, also referred to as our solar system, lies near the edge the Milky Way. Our solar system consists of the sun and its eight classic planets that orbit the sun, with Mercury being the closest at 58 million km’s and Pluto the furthest at 5,900 million km’s from the sun. Planet earth – 150 million km’s from the sun – and its moon falls within the eight planets. The Milky Way that we are part of, can be clearly seen from the Little Karoo on a clear evening. Our galaxy is “flat” and has the shape of a disc with a hub in the middle from where spiral fingers stretches out to the edges. This is known as a spiral galaxy. To cross our galaxy from side to side will take you 100,000 light years and at its hub, to travel from top to bottom a mere 20,000 light years. The Sun and us are a mere 33,000 light years from the hub. Our galaxy rotates around its hub once every 225 million years at a speed of 300km/second, this is known as a cosmic year, Earth rotates around the sun once every 365.25 days at a speed of 30 km/second. Earth “spins” at a speed of 1500 km/h around its own axis.

Southern Cross – The Southern Cross is always visible at night in Southern Africa. It is the most prominent of the constellations to be seen. It always points to the south celestial pole and is used to determine south. Four stars are named after the Greek alphabet.

Orion – This constellation is also known as the “Hunter”, and the “red giant” Betelgeuse is part of this constellation. It is one of the most prominent constellations and also visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

If your clients are in the Karoo and would like to enjoy a guided stargazing tour including a traditional South African Braai at Mount Noah, then please get in touch for more information. Prices start from ZAR625 per person payable locally.

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by Jo Smethurst

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