Stargazing destinations that are out of this world
In 2016, researchers conducted a study which confirmed that most U.S. and European citizens are unable to see the Milky Way at night due to light pollution. For curious stargazers who want to get a better look at the clear night sky, a trip to one of these stellar destinations might be in order!
Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
This enormous dark-sky reserve was designated by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) back in 2012. The reserve encompasses over 4,200 square kilometers on the South Island of New Zealand, and it is also home to New Zealand’s astronomy center, Mount John Observatory. The observatory attracts research astronomers from around the world, including Japan, the U.S., and Germany.
Visitors can explore the Mount John Observatory and enjoy the beautiful New Zealand scenery during the day, but the reserve becomes truly magical at night. You can take a stargazing tour with companies like Big Sky Stargazing, or you can take it all in on your own. Either way, you’ll get the chance to see millions of stars and galaxies. Be sure to keep your eye out for constellations such as the Southern Cross, which is only visible in the southern hemisphere, and the Aurora Australis.
NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
Also designated by the IDA in 2012, NamibRand Nature Reserve boasts some incredible stargazing opportunities. It’s located in the Namib Desert, where the nearest town is over 100 kilometers away. The complete lack of light pollution, as well as the desert’s low humidity, creates crystal-clear conditions that allow visitors to take in the true beauty of the night sky.
You can go on a guided stargazing tour, or you can head over to the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge to use their telescope and get expert advice from an actual astronomer. On especially clear nights, you may even be able to see zodiacal light and gegenschein, which is caused by light filtering through interplanetary dust. If you venture deeper into the reserve, you can borrow portable telescopes or even stay overnight in open-air units where you can stargaze from your bed!
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
The Cherry Springs State Park became one of the 12 International Dark Sky Parks in June of 2009, and it’s considered to be the darkest point east of the Mississippi river. According to experts, visitors to this 48-acre park can view around 10,000 stars without the aid of a telescope. In fact, the Milky Way is so bright that it reportedly casts shadows!
The park offers night programs, photography programs, guided tours, and even “Star Parties,” which are biannual events where astronomers can give expert talks, educate enthusiastic stargazers, and share professional-level telescopes with the public. Cherry Springs State Park also reports on its website that on most clear nights, visitors can expect to see unforgettable celestial views of Venus, zodiacal light, the Space Station, meteor showers, and dozens of constellations.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
If getting a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis is on your bucket list, this Alaskan destination is a must! While winter is one of the best times to go, it’s understandable if you don’t want to deal with the frigid temperatures on your stargazing vacation. It’s recommended to plan your travel as soon as Denali begins losing sunlight everyday, which occurs in early August. By late September, there will be plenty of hours of darkness where you can catch views of the Northern Lights without needing to bring a parka.
Galloway Forest Park, Scotland
The Galloway Forest Park was established in 1947 and spans a total of 185,000 acres. On the edge of the park, the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory features 2 telescopes that visitors can use to see deep into space. Of course, even if you don’t use a telescope, you’ll still be able to observe over 7,000 stars along with star formations, meteors, and on rare occasions, Aurora Borealis.
Throughout the park, there are different visitor centers, panoramic viewing points, and designated lookouts where you can see the sky from a wide range of gorgeous perspectives. There are even guides that will help you notice various constellations and accurately spot different celestial bodies. You’ll feel like a real astronomer in no time!
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