“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” — Vincent van Gogh, Dutch impressionist painter, 1853-1890
Dark skies, bright stars: discover here the top ten stargazing spots around the world, stargazing is simply magic.
Atacama Desert, Chile
The incredible landscape of Chile’s remote Atacama Desert is like no place on earth.
Its extreme terrain and arid environment – the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on the planet – means there is little in the way of human development, making it the perfect spot for travelers who are keen to get off the beaten track. Far from being a desolate, arid wilderness, the Atacama desert is overflowing with life.
The Atacama Desert’s near-perfect visibility provides crystal-clear views of the most famous constellations of the Southern Hemisphere sky — including the Tarantula Nebula, the Fornax Cluster of galaxies, the Southern Cross, and even the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.
For these reasons, many consider Chile’s Atacama Desert to be the best place in the world to stargaze. Astro-tourists from around the world flock to this bucket-list astronomy destination, so numerous local outfitters provide tours and some local hotels even offer personal stargazing experiences.
Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
Unique to the Mackenzie Region, the clear skies found in this part of the world are like nothing else in New Zealand. Very limited light pollution means the views of the night sky seem to stretch on as far as the eye can see.
In 2012, the 4300 square kilometre area was declared the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, with light pollution strictly controlled in the area. It is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of only eight in the world. Within this reserve is New Zealand’s premier astronomical research centre, the Mount John Observatory.
The reserve protects its dark-sky heritage in respect to the indigenous Maori people, for whom the stars play a role in navigation and folklore.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Mauna Kea kuahiwi ku ha’o ika malie – (Mauna Kea is the astonishing mountain that stands in the calm)
Mauna Kea‘s altitude and isolation in the middle of the Pacific ocean make it an ideal location for astronomical observation.
High above the town of Hilo, close to Mauna Kea’s 13,803-foot peak, sits Mauna Kea Observatory, the largest research observatory in the world. It’s a major astronomy hub, home to thirteen of the world’s largest and most powerful telescopes.
Moreover, Mauna Kea is one of the only places in the world where you can drive from sea level to nearly 14,000 feet in about 2 hours.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
One of many national parks located in the southwestern United States, Bryce Canyon is particularly noteworthy for its surreal-looking hoodoo rock formations and its especially starry night skies. The more than 35,000-acre national park in Utah is less-visited than the nearby Grand Canyon (which is also an International Dark Sky Park)—and thus, it’s better for more remote stargazing and astronomy programming.
On nightly excursions led by the park’s highly trained Astronomy Rangers, visitors can check out up to 7,500 stars, see a horizon-to-horizon view of the Milky Way, and catch glimpses of both Venus and Jupiter.
Located north of the Arctic Circle, not far from Sweden’s border with Norway and Finland, remote Kiruna is just under 30 miles from Esrange Space Center, Europe’s largest civilian space center.
The Kiruna area of Swedish Lapland offers a climate that allows for clear night skies – the perfect stargazing conditions. You can view constellations from almost any point in the village of Abisko. This is when the northern lights are at their most breathtaking, dancing across the sky and offering a spectacular sight.
Denali National Park Reserve, Alaska
In the Denali area, nearly everywhere is free from human light pollution. No matter where your lodging or campground is located, you should have a good chance to see the aurora if the three factors above align for you. The best locations are those that provide a clear view of the northern horizon with no buildings, dense trees, or nearby mountains to block your view. Although the aurora can appear anywhere in the sky, it is most likely to first appear in the north, especially when auroral activity levels are low.
With long hours of darkness, the fall, winter and early spring can be a fantastic time to view stars in Denali. Very little light pollution makes Denali a particularly great location for stargazing. Here, it’s possible to see the Milky Way and thousands of faint stars that cannot be seen near cities.
NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
Namibiaʼs NamibRand Nature Reserve, one of Africaʼs largest private nature reserves, lies in one of the naturally darkest (yet accessible) places on Earth. It was established to help protect and conserve the unique ecology and wildlife of the southwest Namib Desert, and its mission now includes preservation of the area’s starry night skies.
In the core of the reserve is the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) Centre, which runs environmental education programs that teach about the Earth and sky. Overnight guests, usually groups of schoolchildren, even have the opportunity to sleep in “open air” units where they can view the night sky from the comfort of their beds. The NaDEET Centreʼs programs are open to all Namibians, and visitors from around the world.
Pic du Midi, France
A fortified concrete-and-stone complex, packed full of metal domes, sprawls across the top of a precipitous peak above the clouds. At an altitude of 2,877 meters (9,349 feet), the sweeping view of the surrounding French Pyrénées is rivaled only by the site’s magnificently dark night sky.
The observatory is also home to the highest museum in Europe, one that will guide you through the history of Pic du Midi and over a century of scientific research and technological progress.
Jasper National Park, Canada
In 2011, Jasper was designated as a Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society in Canada, due to its limited light pollution that creates ideal conditions for dark sky viewing.
Jasper’s Dark Sky invites stargazing adventurers to get lost in the wonder of one of the world’s largest dark sky preserves. As daylight hours begin to recede, October is the ideal time to celebrate the skies with the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival, an ever-growing celebration aimed at connecting all ages to our universe and beyond.
Zselic National Landscape Protection Area, Hungary
Zselic is one of the best places with close to unaltered dark night skies in Hungary. The Triangulum Galaxy can be seen with the naked eye on clear nights, and the zodiacal light is often visible in spring and autumn.
The park has an astronomy program for visitors that includes full-dome movies at the planetarium, a meteorite collection, telescopic observation at day and night, and nightly guided tours.
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