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Namibian Astronomy

November 7, 2012

Namibia is one of the poorest countries in the world. But among the country’s natural resources are great beauty and dark night skies. The beauty is bringing in tourists, while the night skies are bringing casual skywatchers and professional astronomers alike.

Not surprisingly, the natural beauty and dark skies often overlap. As an example, a wildlife reserve in the Namib Desert recently became the first site in Africa to earn “dark skies” certification from the International Dark-Sky Association. That means there’s almost no light pollution to obscure the Milky Way, meteors, and other faint sights in the night sky. It also means that the region is taking steps to keep the sky nice and dark.

The skies above the Khomas Highland region are nice and dark, too — so nice that they’re home to a growing astronomical observatory. Its major tenant is called HESS. It’s the largest telescope of its kind, which studies some of the most energetic objects and events in the universe; more about that tomorrow.

Several smaller projects have added their own telescopes to the site. One of them, called ROTSE, looks for powerful explosions known as gamma-ray bursts. And another, part of a network known as HAT-South, hunts for planets in other star systems. And in fact, astronomers confirmed the first discovery with HAT-South just a few months ago — a giant planet close to a Sun-like star — discovered in part under the dark skies of Namibia.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012

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