Gateway to the galaxy
Nearing midnight in the utter silence and tranquillity of the Sossusvlei desert, I climb the steep hill behind andBeyond’s lodge to an open-air, stone rotunda forming a natural planetarium.
I’m greeted at the top of its spiral stairway by Uncle Pat, as he’s affectionately called by staff. Softly spoken, Patrick’s lifelong obsession with the stars is infectious.
“On clear nights when my daughter was young, my favourite memories are teaching her about the stars from a picnic bench in our backyard,” he discloses.
Armed with a Mead LX200R 12-inch mega telescope lens reaching 200 million light-years away, my star lesson begins. From our perch at the rotunda’s zenith, a 360-degree twinkling canopy envelopes us.
For those who love astronomy, there are few sights more awe-inspiring than the clarity of light in the Southern hemisphere above the Namib Desert.
Under the tutelage of this renowned astronomer, secrets of the Southern skies unfold. Patrick’s 100-mile amp laser isolates the mysterious incandescence of the Magellanic Clouds, the Milky Way’s arching belt of white lights, bands of zodiacal illumination, nebulae where new stars are formed, and infinite radiant constellations.
“I’ve explored these objects endlessly and still can’t get enough,” he tells me.
As the hours pass, Patrick reveals NamibRand is one of the best settings on Earth to catch a glimpse of the elusive Gegenschein phenomenon.
Through his powerful telescope, Patrick also shows me ‘The Pointers’ (Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri) which aim at the most famous, yet smallest of all constellations found south of the equator called Crux, the Southern Cross.
Adjacent is a distinct dust cloud so dark it was named Coalsack. Incredibly, Patrick explains, seven of the eight orbiting planets can be seen with the naked eye from NamibRand.
He forewarns, “Watch out for the Supermoon in the coming days.”
Moments later, I behold my first meteor, more commonly known as a shooting star. I make a wish for this dark sky reserve to be preserved in perpetuity.
Sometimes wishes actually do come true.
With the devastating economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to derail decades of conservation work in Africa, it is notable that this place remains unscathed. This singular location the virus couldn’t reach – the NamibRand starry night sky.