5 of the world's best places to stargaze
Outside bustling cities, astro tourists scour the dark night skies for out-of-this-world nocturnal views.
Though increasing urbanization has seen many of us become accustomed to starless skies, it seems the fiery presence of the stars sprawled across the inky night sky is still a sight we innately yearn to see. Dark sky reserves and sanctuaries all across the globe are experiencing visitor booms as floods of urbanites arrive in search of unpolluted night skies. Rising up to meet this wave of amateur star-seekers is a new network of astrotourism infrastructure and services, ranging from knowledgeable astronomer tours offering guided stargazing sessions to dark-sky friendly accommodations designed to provide the best night-sky watching opportunities.
Are you itching to glimpse the burning stars in all their cold, crisp glory? Head to one of these key star-spotting destinations where the nighttime displays are just as awe-inducing as almost anything you’ll see by day.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Mauna Kea, an almost 14,000-foot-tall dormant volcano located on Hawaii’s big island, is a prized location for astronomers with research teams from all across the globe converging here to conduct their celestial studies. Mauna Kea’s summit hosts several super-powerful telescopes, which are reserved for professional usage, though the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station – a little farther down the slopes at 9,200 feet – allows amateurs and enthusiasts to test out their telescopes and stargazing equipment. The center also hosts nightly stargazing programs during which staff help visitors observe and chart the heavens.
Ramon Nature Reserve, Israel
There's no place like the Ramon Crater for stargazing in Israel. (Photo: Daniel Melman/Flickr)
The open environment of Israel’s Ramon Nature Reserve is ideal for constellation spotting. The climate, combined with minimal light pollution, means visitors to the park can easily observe the intricate details of the twinkling night sky. The best time for star spotting here are during the nights when the moon is conspicuously absent. A group called Astronomy Israel offer tours that not only school participants on the objects visible in the celestial sphere, but they also expand upon the lore associated with the stars and the role the night sky plays in local culture and communities.
Chile’s Elqui Valley
With the heaven-skimming peaks of the Andes halting clouds to the east and the remarkably dry Atacama Desert spreading out to the north, Northern Chile’s Elqui Valley is stargazing territory par excellence. A designated Dark Sky Sanctuary, the valley is remote and isolated, and thus almost untouched by light pollution, meaning the Milky Way blazes here in a way that can seem almost unreal to travelers unused to witnessing mother nature’s nocturnal display in all its unchecked splendor. There are quite a few observatories in the Elqui Valley that cater to star-searching tourists, including the purpose-built Mamalluca just northeast of Vicuña and the Pangue Observatory to the south. There are also places to sleep, such as Elqui Domos, whose cabins include roof hatches for night-sky viewing, aimed specifically at astrotourists.
Pembrokeshire, United Kingdom
Wales’ Pembrokeshire Coast National Park possesses an enviable assortment of natural assets, including deserted sandy beaches, towering cliffs, volcanic peaks and wind and wave-worn arches and sea stacks. At nighttime, the glittering sky takes center stage in the park’s handful of designated Dark Sky Discovery sites. From these spots, visitors can trace prominent constellations such as the Big Dipper and Orion with the naked eye. Binoculars, telescopes and SLR cameras will reveal even more distant galaxies. Stargazing and night sky photography tours are both available. And, as seen in the video above, looking at the sky over the park's Carew Castle is quite spectacular.
Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve is home to nearly 4,000 residents. (Photo: Neil Tackaberry/Flickr)
This 270-square-mile patch in County Kerry, southwest Ireland, is a certified International Dark Sky Reserve. The core of the reserve, set far away from the polluting glare of large urban environments, is blessed with vast expanses of clear, licorice-black skies where everything from single “falling stars” (not really stars at all, but merely the exploding debris of a meteoroid entering Earth’s atmosphere) to spectacular meteor showers, can be witnessed. Stargazing visitors can take tours with experienced astronomers who can help them make sense of the swirling mass of bright stars overhead, identifying the pattern of various constellations and even pointing out visible planets.
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