With its generally cloudless night sky, especially in the dry winter months, minimal contamination by artificial light and air pollution, and excellent view of the southern constellations, Namibia has superb stargazing conditions. As such it is favoured by professional and amateur astronomers alike. A few years ago, an astronomy workgroup was launched, aimed at fostering the interest for astronomy, star gazing and information relating to the Namibian night sky in all people, irrespective of their age or background. It also intends to educate interested parties on this subject.
Namibia was chosen as the best site for the multi-national Max Planck High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) experiment. The first of the four telescopes of Phase I of the H.E.S.S. project went into operation in the summer of 2002; all four were operational by December 2003, on Farm Göllschau near the Gamsberg. In a 2006 survey, H.E.S.S. was ranked the 10th most influential observatory worldwide.
In July 2012, the H.E.S.S. II telescope started operating on Farm Göllschau. The telescope observes the most violent and extreme phenomena of the universe and is on the forefront of ground-based gamma-ray astronomy, a deeper understanding of known high-energy cosmic sources, and the search for new classes of high-energy cosmic sources. The telescope with its 28-metre mirror is the largest Cherenkov telescope ever built.
Many lodges have medium-sized telescopes (up to 16” diameter) for use by guests and provide novice stargazing -guests with a layman’s introduction to astrology.
The Khomas Hochland/Gamsberg area west of Windhoek has the third-clearest, least light-polluted sky in the world. An impressive ‘farm’ of telescopes and other equipment is maintained by the German-based International Amateur Observatory at the guest farm Hakos, on top of the Gamsberg Pass, two hours’ drive away from Windhoek.
A yearly event is organised by the Southern Stargazers and is open to stargazers of all levels. It is usually held on the farm Otjiwa, outside Otjiwarongo, over a weekend in June or July, depending on the conditions.
Namibia’s first space-observation learning centre, SOLNA, a company that offers astronomy education, astrophotography, telescopes for sale and stargazing tourism, opened in 2010. The company offers stargazing from Gocheganas Lodge, just outside Windhoek.
In 2012 Namibia’s NamibRand Nature Reserve became Africa’s first official Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserve – a spot suited for some of the best stargazing on earth, with little or no impact from light pollution and artificial light.
More on stargazing opportunities in Namibia: