July: Meerkat Moon

The meerkat (also known as a suricate) is a squirrel-sized, mainly insectivorous, mammal that is characteristic of the Karoo. They are remarkably social, with up to 30 individuals from several family groups living together in interconnected tunnel systems (burrows).

This cooperative community existence is key to the survival of the meerkats, perhaps reflecting a glimmer of ubuntu!

Meerkats are often pictured standing upright on two legs, using their thin tails for balance. This upright posture is often adopted by one of the adults, perched high atop a rock, acting as a lookout. While on guard duty, the guard meerkat makes a low peeping sound to signal to the others that all is well. Meerkats also stand up in groups in the early morning to catch the first warm rays of the Sun. This probably explains the German word for them, ‘Erdmännchen’, which means “little earth men”. (The German ‘Meerkatze’ refers to the guenon monkey.)

In San mythology the meerkat features prominently. One rendition of how the meerkat came into existence describes an event that befell a group of people. They were attacked by lions and all the adults of the family were eaten. The children managed to escape into holes in the ground where they had to hide for so long that they began to transform. Those wearing karosses (cloaks) of jackal skins became ground-squirrels but those wearing karosses of other game animals became meerkats.

The meerkats claim to celebrity status is quite a strong one! Timon is the comedic meerkat in The Lion King movies, who teaches Simba the lion the philosophy of “Hakuna Matata”. Meerkats even have their own award-winning TV series, Meerkat Manor, with spin-off movies including Meerkats 3D and Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins.

Meerkats are also the subject of a long-term research programme, the Kalahari Meerkat Project, which studies the evolutionary causes and ecological consequences of their cooperative behaviours.

Meerkats have also become the mascot of cutting-edge science and engineering in South Africa. Some 80 km outside the small town of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape Province, the world’s largest radio telescope is being developed.

An early milestone in this multinational project was the construction, by South African scientists, of the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT), consisting of 7 large radio dishes (antennae) which saw first light in 2009. Following its success, it was expanded into a new, larger array, consisting of 64 even-larger dishes. In a sense, this was “more KAT”, or MeerKAT.

MeerKAT was inaugurated on 2018 July 13 and is fully operational and has already generated the deepest radio image of star-forming galaxies. With MeerKAT, South Africa is punching well above its weight in the international astronomy arena. In cooperation with Germany, a further 20 dishes will be added to MeerKAT by 2022.

Incredibly, MeerKAT is just a precursor to the much larger Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project. When fully developed around 2030, SKA will have a total collecting area of one square kilometre! Components of the SKA will be located in several African countries, with additional units located in Australia.

The interconnected design of these individual radio dishes, all working together in a complex network, seems to echo the integrated social life of the little meerkat.

The second Full Moon in July is the Protea Moon.

Date of Meerkat Moon (2020–2050)

2020 Jul 05, 06:48
2021 Jul 24, 04:42
2022 Jul 13, 20:42
2023 Jul 03, 13:36
2024 Jul 21, 12:12
2025 Jul 10, 22:36
2026 Jul 29, 16:36
2027 Jul 18, 17:48
2028 Jul 06, 20:12
2029 Jul 25, 15:42
2030 Jul 15, 04:12
2031 Jul 04, 21:00
2032 Jul 22, 20:54
2033 Jul 12, 11:24
2034 Jul 01, 19:42
2035 Jul 20, 12:36

2036 Jul 08, 13:18
2037 Jul 27, 06:18
2038 Jul 16, 13:54
2039 Jul 06, 04:06
2040 Jul 24, 04:06
2041 Jul 13, 21:00
2042 Jul 03, 10:06
2043 Jul 22, 05:24
2044 Jul 10, 08:24
2045 Jul 28, 00:12
2046 Jul 18, 02:54
2047 Jul 07, 12:36
2048 Jul 25, 11:36
2049 Jul 15, 04:30
2050 Jul 04, 20:48

Further reading


Kalahari Meerkat Project

Meerkat Manor (TV series)



South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO)

Heritage Full Moons in South Africa

MonthFirst Full MoonSecond Full Moon
JanuaryMantis MoonLeopard Moon
FebruaryDassie Moon——
MarchHarvest MoonOchre Moon
AprilDiamond MoonGold Moon
MayFrost MoonFire Moon
JuneSisters MoonHoney Moon
JulyMeerkat MoonProtea Moon
AugustPeace MoonDusty Moon
SeptemberSpring MoonBlue Crane Moon
OctoberWhale MoonElephant Moon
NovemberMilk MoonWool Moon
DecemberSpringbok MoonEland Moon

Protecting South Africa’s astronomical heritage

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