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Astronomy

NamibRand is one of the best places in the world to observe the night sky (see News)

Namibia is famous in astronomy circles as being an excellent location for viewing the night sky. In part this is because it is cloud-free for much of the year and its extremely dry air does not absorb much light so the stars, especially those close to the horizon, shine more brightly than they do in most places.  An equally important factor is that in those parts of the country far removed from urban areas, such as the NamibRand Nature Reserve,  there is still almost a complete absence of exterior lights, the main source of light pollution. To keep the sky as dark as possible, NamibRand has undertaken improvements that include eliminating as many lights as possible, and shielding others so that their light does not reach the sky. This has resulted in an extremely dark sky, allowing thousands of fainter stars to be seen and making the Reserve one of the best places in the world to observe the night sky.

 On nights when the Moon does not interfere, the Milky Way, the disk of our galaxy, stretches brightly across the sky, streaked by dark lanes of dust.  Two smaller neighboring galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds, are easily seen at certain times of the year as is the fainter but much larger and more distant Andromeda Galaxy. A pyramid of light rises from the west after sunset and a similar one appears in the east before dawn. This is the zodiacial light, sunlight reflected off dust located in space between the Earth and Mars. Among the stars, from time to time meteors flash across the sky. They are small pieces of rock or metal burning up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. After sunset and before dawn satellites, including the International Space Station with its crew of astronauts, are visible passing overhead.   

Views of this magnificent sky inspire awe and wonder in modern people, just as they did in their distant ancestors who devised myths and legends to explain what they saw. 

Large and small Magellanic Clouds.jpg (311949 bytes)

Viewing the Milky Way from the NamibRand Nature Reserve, one can understand how the legend - that it was a created by a girl who threw ashes from a fire into the sky - became part of the cultural heritage of Namibia.

George Tucker

Associated link: http://www.darksky.org

 

 

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