Whether you believe in the pow­er of the stars and plan­ets or are one of those who sim­ply enjoys mar­vel­ling at the night sky while pon­der­ing the sci­ence of it all, the fact is that astron­o­my has had a very real impact on human minds.

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Stargaz­ing can be a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence for each per­son – for some it is a spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence; for oth­ers a nev­er-end­ing pur­suit of knowl­edge; and for oth­ers still it’s about appre­ci­at­ing the beau­ty and mag­ni­tude of the skies. (Image: Maropeng)

In this month’s stargaz­ing event, Maropeng’s res­i­dent astronomer, Vin­cent Nettmann, address­es the role of astron­o­my in the devel­op­ment of the human mind, and what we have learnt about the star­ry skies dur­ing this process. This inter­est­ing 60-minute illus­trat­ed talk will fea­ture exquis­ite Hub­ble Space Tele­scope images.

Says Nettmann, A wise old philoso­pher once asked, Do we gaze at the stars because we are human, or are we human because we gaze at the stars?’” He adds that the ear­ly hominins had prob­a­bly looked up at the stars and won­dered what those glit­ter­ing objects in the night sky were, and what lay beyond that vast expanse above.

While we haven’t stopped seek­ing to explain the mys­ter­ies of the uni­verse, our meth­ods have changed. Mod­ern man has sophis­ti­cat­ed tech­nolo­gies at his dis­pos­al to attempt to answer age-old ques­tions, as well as the new ones that have arisen from new­ly acquired knowledge.

Nettmann explains that to casu­al spec­ta­tors the night skies may look like jum­bled bod­ies of light ran­dom­ly strewn about the fir­ma­ment, some a lit­tle brighter than oth­ers, all just part of a sea of burn­ing balls of gas. But some­one who has tak­en the time to study these celes­tial bod­ies sees order­ly pat­terns and shapes. The plan­ets and brighter stars become nav­i­ga­tion points and land­marks by which we chart our jour­neys through the skies as they lead us fur­ther afield, to less eas­i­ly under­stood celes­tial bodies.

Those who study the stars know that this knowl­edge arms them with a 24-hour clock, a com­pass and a pro­trac­tor – prac­ti­cal rea­sons for stargaz­ing. How­ev­er, on a deep­er lev­el, some gaze at the stars to feed the philo­soph­i­cal aspects of the soul, while oth­ers study it for science’s sake and its sheer beauty.

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The Horse­head Neb­u­la in Ori­on. (Image: Pixabay)

For those in sci­ence, the love­ly celes­tial pat­terns, shad­ing and colour­ing offer valu­able infor­ma­tion about mat­ter – infor­ma­tion that couldn’t be acquired in a lab here on Earth. These obser­va­tions and research allow us a greater under­stand­ing of our own world and help us deduce its future.

Study­ing the stars has even allowed some to attain immor­tal­i­ty of sorts with their valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to astron­o­my. Accord­ing to Nettmann and those in his field, the names of stars and their deriva­tions pay homage to ancient civil­i­sa­tions’ con­tri­bu­tions to astron­o­my. Myths and leg­ends about the pow­er­ful beings that inhab­it dis­tant skies all have their place in folklore.

Some find that stargaz­ing is a spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence; for oth­ers it is a nev­er-end­ing pur­suit of knowl­edge; and for oth­ers still it’s about appre­ci­at­ing the beau­ty and mag­ni­tude of the skies.

What­ev­er your rea­son for gaz­ing up at the sky, remem­ber that it’s shaped the minds and think­ing of humanity.

Itin­er­ary for 25 February

  • 6pm: arrive for wel­come drinks
  • 6.30pm: enjoy the stargaz­ing presentation
  • 7.30pm: din­ner at the restau­rant. Stargaz­ing through our tele­scopes will take place after dinner

Bring along your binoc­u­lars to par­tic­i­pate in an after-din­ner laser-guid­ed tour of the south­ern skies.

NB: the after-din­ner laser-guid­ed star tour and large-aper­ture tele­scop­ic stargaz­ing are sub­ject to weath­er conditions.