Star Gazing In South Africa – Get star struck under the night sky

If you are an avid star gazer, this post is for you. Today the Junk Mail team takes a closer look at star gazing, some tips on binoculars and telescopes, and we highlight the space expo of the year – the Gateway to Space Exhibition taking place in Sandton.

using-a-telescope

A Closer Look at Star Gazing

Stargazing is simply observing the night sky. Though a stargazer can also refer to an astronomer, we are going with the more chilled version, referring more to those of us that stare at the night sky as a hobby – the amateur star gazers out there.

South Africa has the advantage of stunning night skies, Sutherland boasting the Southern Africa Large Telescope (SALT), which is the largest single optical telescope found in the Southern Hemisphere and is located at the South African Astronomical Observatory.

If you are new to the hobby, joining a society or club is a great start. Members plan excursions and, because these are usually experienced stargazers, you are sure to have an unforgettable experience.

The Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA) Centres are a great start. You will find these ASSA Centres in Bloemfontein, Pretoria, the Cape, the Midlands, Durban, Johannesburg, the Garden Route and Hermanus. Remember to keep a close eye in these centres and clubs when it comes to events in Johannesburg and the rest of South Africa.

South Africa also features stunning places to get lost under the night sky. In Gauteng, you can visit the Johannesburg Planetarium and even the Maropeng Visitor Centre (The Cradle of Humankind). SALT near Sutherland offers amazing, unobstructed skies that will gives you a stunning view of the stars above. From here, you can go on a journey, starting in Sutherland and ending in Calvinia – a journey of starry skies and dusty roads.

The Eastern Cape border with Lesotho is great for those in the Eastern Cape Highlands, while Madikwe River Lodge is perfect for those of you living in the North West. The Free State also offers great star gazing locations like the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

Limpopo offers great locations for stargazers, the Waterberg district standing out among the rest. The Mashovhela Lodge (near Makhado or previously known as Louis Trichardt) and the Entabeni Private Game Reserve are great options.

Other stunning locations for stargazing includes the Anysberg Nature Reserve (in the Klein Karoo), the Cederberg Astronomical Observatory, the Tswalu Kalahari Nature Reserve in the Northern Cape and the Pafuri River Camp (in the Kruger Nation Park where Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet).

Also don’t forget to read our Amazing stargazing and telescope viewing spots in SA post!

The Ultimate Equipment for Star Gazing

Before going out and buying the most expensive telescope, remember to start small. Before diving headfirst into the night sky, keep in mind that you will have to know what you are looking for and what you are looking at.

Start off by learning what is up above by using the naked eye. This will help you to learn the layout of the sky as well as the different constellations. To help get you started, the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa offers this free downloadable Southern Star Wheel Planisphere.

Those already deep in the hobby suggests that you start out with finding binoculars for sale. As a beginner, you don’t even have to invest in expensive astronomy binoculars right away. Finding affordable binoculars are great for beginners simply because they are so easy to handle, while at the same time giving you the opportunity to learn as you gaze.

telescope-used-in-stargazing

Some of the popular binocular sizes include the 7×35, 7×50, 10×50, 10×70 and 11×80.

After you have reached your limitations, studying all the maps and guidebooks, you can start focussing on more specialised binoculars and telescopes for sale. Most star gazers will insist that you not be stingy when looking for an Astronomical Telescope. If you are on a tight budget, you can also look for used stargazing equipment.

Remember, when starting out, join an astronomy club or ASSA Centre. Here you will have the opportunity to learn and get some hands-on advice from those with more knowledge in the field.

Binoculars vs Astronomy Binoculars

There are various types of binoculars, each one best suited for specific functions. In general, there are two main types of binoculars – the Roof Prism Binocular and the Porro Prism Binocular.

night-sky

The Prism Binocular makes use of prisms in the optical system to rectify (or correct) an inverted image. The Porro Prism Binocular creates a rectified image using two prisms on both sides (which gives you four prisms in total). All the reflective surfaces in these types of binoculars are completely reflective, resulting in no light being lost.

The optical path used within these binoculars follow a Z path, resulting in these binoculars being larger than the Roof Prism Binoculars.

The Roof Prism Binocular makes use of a more ‘complex’ path. Featuring a roof-shaped prism, these binoculars for sale entail the optical path at the objective side and the eyepiece side being virtually straight. Simple described, the prism used in this design is in a straight line. This results in binoculars that are more compact.

Astronomy Binoculars are more specialised and, compared to normal binoculars, have larger objective lenses coupled with larger magnifications. These magnifications are able to take in more light.

Astronomical Telescopes

There are a variety of telescopes for sale, each with its own set of characteristics and uses. Two of the main types of telescopes are the Astronomical and Terrestrial Telescope.

star-gazing-using-a-telescope

The Astronomical Telescope makes use of convex lenses – for both the eyepiece lenses as well as the objective lenses – to invert the image you see. These types of telescopes are designed in such a way in order to give the objective lens’s optical performance the top priority, minimizing the loss of light. In this design, a prism, like seen in binoculars, are not used in order to rectify the image you see.

With a Terrestrial Telescope, a prism is incorporated between the eyepiece lenses and the objective to rectify the image you see. This telescope is conveniently used for observing objects and landscapes.

Stargazing Calendar – Events You Can’t Miss

Putting on our research caps, we came across the 2016 Sky Guide Africa South, which is published by the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa and Penguin Random House South Africa (Pty) Ltd. A stunning book, we found these amazing highlights for star gazers in Southern Africa. Below are star gazing highlights that you cannot miss this year.

sky-guide-africa-south

Image Source: Random House Struik

Star Parties and Annual Events for 2016

The Free State Star Party takes place from the 3rd of June until the 5th of June on a guest farm near Gansvlei. From the 1st of July until the 4th of July, the National Karoo Star Party takes place on a guest farm about 20 kilometres north of Britstown.

The Mountain Sanctuary Park Star Party takes place from the 2nd of September until the 4th of September in the North West between Rustenburg and the Hartbeespoort Dam.

Southern Star Party is held twice a year in the Western Cape (near Montagu or Bonnievale), the first being held in February, while the second takes place from October 28th until the 30th of October.

Star Parties that also take place from time to time include the Northern Star Part (near Bela-Bela) and the ASSA / ESSA Star Party (in Magaliesburg). One of the events in Johannesburg you cannot miss is ScopeX, taking place on the 15th of October, 2016.

Meteor Showers in 2016

In this section, we are only highlighting the events that have either Good or Favourable observing prospect:

Meteor Showers taking place in 2016

Meteor ShowerDate
Normids25 February – 22March
July Phoenicids10 July – 16 July
Piscis Australids19 July – 17 August
S. Aquariids21 July – 29 August
Capricornids15 July – 25 August
Southern Taurids1 October – 25 November
Monocerotids15 November – 25 November
Dec. Phoenicids3 December – 9 December
Puppid-Velids5 December – 7 January
Gateway to Space in Joburg

Created with input from NASA, the US Space and Rocket Centre as well as geologists and archaeologists, this is most definitely a space expo you cannot afford to miss. The Gateway to Space showcases 60 space artefacts and covers a whopping 3 400m2 of floor space.

gateway-to-space

Image Source: You Website

The Exhibition will open from the 1st of June, 2016, until the 31st of July, 2016, at the Sandton Convention Centre and showcases everything from space travel and its history, coupled with the latest in space news and technologies.

Visiting the Exhibition you will be able to see the Sputnik 1 (which was the first space satellite), the Vostok Rocket (the rocket that launched the first human into space) and the Lunar rover model, to name but a few of the amazing artefacts on display.

Activities at this event are also just as cool. You will be able to get into the F18 Flight Simulators – the simulators NASA Astronauts use during space shuttle flight training – the Multi-Axis Trainer – which will help give you an idea of how zero gravity feels – and take a photo in a space suit. Other activities also available at the Gateway to Space Exhibition include the Task Board, a simulator that involves landing a spacecraft and Task Force.

gateway-to-space

Image Source: Gateway To Space: The Exhibition Website

Created to bring home the awesomeness of space exploration, this exhibition goes back until 1903 and even reaches into the future, looking at technology as well as our goals of Mars. Each section of the exhibition is setup to show and educate young and old alike.

Great for children, tour guides will also take learners on a tour while they are able to complete special worksheets, making the learning experience fun and interactive.

You can learn more about what this amazing event has to offer by visiting the Gateway To Space: The Exhibition website.

One of the must-not-miss events in Johannesburg, ticket prices for this exhibition are as follows:

  • R120 for children under the age of 18.
  • R 180 for adults
  • R 520 for a family package that includes two adults and two children.
  • R 150 for pensioners.
  • Children that are younger than 18 months and shorter than 73 centimetres enter free of charge.

Whether you are well-versed in star gazing, or just now start to develop an interest in space and space exploration, Junk Mail features a range of amazing binoculars and telescopes for sale. Find the equipment you need or sell your stargazing equipment by placing a Free Ad on Junk Mail now.

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Star Gazing In South Africa - Get star struck under the night sky
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Star Gazing In South Africa - Get star struck under the night sky
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Today the Junk Mail team takes a closer look at star gazing, gives you some tips on binoculars and telescopes, and highlight the space expo of the year.
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Annabel Schoeman

SEO’er, blogger and lover all things weird, wacky and interesting.

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