The South African Night Sky

February 24th, 2011

Because the earth is tilted at an angle on its axis certain stars can only be seen from the Southern Hemisphere, and others only from the north.  South Africa was the site to which the French sent an astronomer from Europe to map and categorize the stars that are visible only from the Southern Hemisphere.   He set up his observatory in what is now Adderley street in Cape Town and systematically explored the area of the sky that had been unknown to European astronomers.

Rather than naming the constellations after mythological features the astronomer decided to use figures that would not offend the church.  He named several constellations after scientific instruments and others after animals he found in South Africa.  Because of this you’ll find constellations such as the chameleon, telescope, and the microscope.  Table Mountain was given the honour of having a constellation named after it – “Mons Mensa”.


Visiting the planetarium at the South African museum is a great way to discover the night sky of the Southern Hemisphere.

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