eye on the sky
“So many places we visit have nothing like it,” Chu says, taking in the panoramic view from the center of an open grassy space above Elewana’s Kifaru House at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.
He tinkers with the portable telescope, a Sky-Watcher Newtonian reflector. It’s a fancy piece of kit, with a 12-inch aperture and 1.5-meter focal length, fitted with a special tracking mount that tracks objects across the sky.
As dusk turns to dusk, distant celestial bodies have begun to materialize all around us. Straddling the equator, Kenya offers a view of a rich mosaic of constellations. From here everything is visible, from the plow in the far north to the southern cross in the far south. It’s also one of those rare places where light pollution, that scourge of the urban stargazer, is minimal (but not totally eradicated).
We begin by pointing the telescope at the waning crescent moon, a thin sliver of dazzling white, slowly sliding toward the horizon. “Most people on Earth have never watched even a small one,” Chu reminds me before I begin. A recognition of our privilege in this experience.
I lean delicately into the eyepiece and the lunar surface comes to life, immensely clear. I fight a momentary, utterly insane belief that I’m right there, 185,000 miles above, orbiting this natural satellite, almost within arm’s reach.
Chu rotates the telescope towards Orion. Rigel, the hunter’s left leg, appears to the naked eye to be nothing but a star. But the telescope reveals that they are twins, Rigel A and Rigel B. The light they project has been traveling through space for almost 800 years, since the era of Genghis Khan.
Susan picks up the laser and begins pointing to other constellations, such as Canis Major, the Greatest Dog, home to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. In her hands, disorganized stings of light magically transform into recognizable shapes, a tribute to her roles as President of the African Planetarium Association and Board Member representing Africa for the International Planetarium Society. .
A deep crimson orange crawls across the sky, the awakening of our nearest and dearest star. Lewa’s songbirds begin to find their voice. Finally, our celestial voyeurism is coming to an end. The mouth of Kenya is visible to the south, a rare sight without a ring of clouds decorating its summit. A faint pink light embraces the summit as a new day sets in.
How to do
Kifaru House from USD 1,230 (approx £960) per cottage and includes full board accommodation, all meals and drinks (excluding champagne, wines and spirits from the private cellar), shared game drives and game drives in dedicated vehicles per booking/record, a guided walking safari, sunset tours and transfers to and from their designated airstrips, laundry, service charge and VAT. Return flights from Nairobi to Lewa Downs cost around 400 USD.
The travel telescope the stargazing experience costs US$1,580 (around £1,215) for a group of up to 20 people at any Elewana property in Kenya. This is per night and includes a reservation policy for the second night if there are no stars on the first night. The experience can be booked through Elewana Reservations.