The best countries for stargazing are those that have wide open spaces and wide open skies. The sky at night is one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts and it’s a spectacular show and even better, it’s completely free! If you find yourself in one of the best countries for stargazing and night falls, just look up!
1 The United States
As one of the best countries for stargazing, the US offers many opportunities for those whose heads are in the clouds. Amongst these opportunities, Hawaii ranks at the tip-top. The island’s position in the Pacific enables a viewing of the night sky relatively free from light pollution. Park yourself at the 9,000-foot Mauna Kea volcano on the Big Island for the best viewing. Its Keck Observatory is home to one of the biggest optical telescopes in the world. The most advanced telescope, known as the Thirty-Meter Telescope, will also be available here in 2018. Another stellar place for US stargazing is the American Southwest, namely the Sonoran Desert. Near Tucson, the Kitt Peak National Observatory offers both clear skies and the most comprehensive collection of optical telescopes in the world. Other honorable mentions in the Southwest – McDonald Observatory in Texas, Griffith Observatory in LA, Lowell Observatory in Arizona, and Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah, where astronomy workshops are led by rangers during the summer.
Australia’s Southern Hemisphere location allows stargazers to spot stars which the Northern Hemisphere population don’t get to see. One of the most notable of these visible star clusters is the Southern Cross constellation (shown above). Situated near the Sydney Harbor, the Sydney Observatory is a fabulous place to view the night sky. Or, if you’d rather view your skyscape outside the city, the South Pacific Star Party, hosted by the Astronomical Society of New South Wales takes place annually on a 100-acre site, a three-hour drive from Sydney. A particularly stunning stargazing hotspot lies in central Australia, byway of the Uluru (Ayers Rock). The Sounds of Silence experience is complete with lovely dining in the great outdoors, and an astronomer’s Southern Hemisphere tour of the sky.
3 South Africa
As a result of low population density and, thus, low light pollution, Africa is replete with stargazing opportunities. The cloudless night skies in South Africa offer spectacular viewings in particular. Kruger National Park offers safari astronomy tours, which will knock your socks off; while the South African Astronomical Observatory provides fantastic stargazing facilities in Cape Town and Sutherland.
Offering some outstanding stargazing conditions, South Africa’s neighbor, Namibia offers impressive telescopes in the International Amateur Observatory at Khomas Hochland/Gamsberg, as well as a unique experience amongst the largest sand dunes in the world, with a stay at the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, where both astronomy guides and a private observatory are available to lodge guests. Also, the first space observation learning centre in Namibia, SOLNA, provides astrophotography, astronomy education, and stellar stargazing tourism.
5 New Zealand
Much of New Zealand has absolutely no light pollution and, along with offering easily accessible observatories, which includes the 360-degree dome theater of the Auckland Stardome, there is no shortage of stargazing in this glorious country. In recent years, the South Island’s 4,300 square kilometers were named as an International Dark Sky Reserve. Spread across the region of the Aoraki/Mount Cook Mackenzie, the reserve is oft quoted as being ‘one of the best stargazing sites on earth’. A magical experience can also be found in Queenstown, where Skyline Stargazing allows its guests to take a gondola ride into the mountains, where they can spot their favorite constellations through a telescope lens.
The world’s highest and driest desert, the Atacama Desert in Chile, provides a light pollution-free sky, dry desert air, and isolation – the perfect combo for the stargazing experience of a lifetime. Public tours are offered by the Observatorio Cerro Mamalluca, while a more intimate experience can be found at the Hotel Elqui Domos, where the uppermost bedrooms feature geodesic domes with detachable roofs, providing a dreamless sleep from a heavenly bed under the star-filled heavens.
One of the best countries for stargazing in Europe is none other than dark-skied Scotland. You don’t have to take a trip to the Arctic Circle to catch the unbelievable phenomenon that is the northern lights; with occasional visibility in Scotland, you can take advantage of the celestial skies of the Scottish Highlands to catch the color show. The Dark Sky Scotland is an organization which advocates for dark sky parks, while Edinburg’s Royal Observatory is a great place to start your Scottish skygazing tour.
Although these are the best countries for stargazing, the night sky is always there wherever you are. If you’re lucky to see a cloudless sky, take advantage of it. Are you a stargazer?
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