If you live in a town or city, the night sky might sometimes be pretty, but it can never compare with the night time views in the best places to go stargazing. You don’t have to be an astronomer or scientist to appreciate the beauty of the night sky, but for it to be majestic and in full glory, you need a clear sky that has no clouds and is unaffected by light pollution. Check out these brilliant places to go stargazing for an enchanting and captivating experience of the night sky.
Did you know that there are designated Dark Sky Reserves and that there are only 5 of them in the world that have Gold Tier status? The most recent reserve gold status was only granted in February 2013 and the honor went to the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales. The Dark Sky Reserves obviously count as the very best places to go stargazing, and their reserve status means they are to be protected from light pollution in the future. The Brecon Beacons is a range of fairly low lying mountains and one of the UK’s favorite spots for outdoor pursuits such as walking, mountain biking, orienteering, bird watching and of course, stargazing. The Brecon Beacons was the 2nd site in the UK to achieve Gold Dark Sky Reserve status – the other being Exmoor National Park in Devon.
The southern part of the African continent is well known for its wide open skies, so it seems only relevant that another of the major dark sky reserves is here. Among the best places to enjoy the night sky in Africa is the NamibRand Nature Reserve. One of the 5 Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserves, NamibRand is a private reserve protecting and conserving the pro-Namib – the eastern area of the Namib Desert. The terrain is atypical of the Namib Desert with savanna, sand and gravel plains, dunes and mountains opening up to huge clear skies.
Surely enjoying an extra special location for magnificent skies is the small town of Kiruna in northern Sweden. What makes it one of the most wondrous places of nocturnal beauty is that not only are the skies clear to see the stars, but it is also one of the best locations in the world to see the Northern Lights. The area is home to numerous space research centers, but visitors can enjoy the pure skies through binoculars as well as enjoying the magnificent arctic scenery. Kiruna is also home to an annual Snow Festival – the attractions here just keep on coming.
Home to some 4,000 people, the Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve occupies nearly 700 sq km along the Wild Atlantic Way tourist trail. Because it is sandwiched between the Kerry Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, this area is relatively protected from urban light pollution. Ireland's population has always enjoyed stargazing. Some 6 millennia ago, the Iveragh Peninsula's Neolithic inhabitants erected stone monuments that show by their alignment how they attempt to track the movements of sun, moon and stars. Experts in the ancient Ogham language believe that inscriptions found in the area may describe celestial observations made during that era.
We all know how magnificent the natural wonders of New Zealand are, but it also takes the title of the largest Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserve in the world. The reserve covers 1,600 square miles of the center of South Island and takes in the Aoraki National Park and part of the Mackenzie Basin. Aoraki is the Maori name for Mount Cook - the highest mountain in New Zealand. Lake Tekapo is one of the country's favourite and best spots for stargazers.
One of the most incredible of all places to go stargazing is the small village of La Fortuna in northern Costa Rica. What makes it such an incredible experience is the proximity to Arenal volcano, one of the largest and most active volcanoes on the planet. The night skies are pure and magnificent with numerous stars and astral bodies. The Magellanic Clouds galaxies are regularly visible here. Add into this picture the spectacle of a live lava eruption and you have all the ingredients for a magnificent nocturnal show.
Representing the largest contiguous wetland of any single European country and forming the largest protected area in Germany's Federal State of Brandenburg in the East of the country, Westhavelland Nature Park is located just 70 km west of Berlin, Germany's most populous city. Owing to the sparse population of rural Brandenburg, the Dark Sky Reserve allows nearly 6 million residents of the Greater Berlin urban area to access an unspoiled night sky. Stretching for 750 sq km, the nature park offers a comprehensive educational program, including the annual Westhavelländer Astro Treff Star Party, the European Day of Parks event, the Kunst und Kultur (“Art and Culture”) outreach program, and numerous partnerships with Germany's private sector to develop astro tourism.
Mont Megantic was the very first Dark Sky Reserve, designated in 2007. The focal point is Mont Megantic Observatory and the reserve extends for a radius of 31m around the observatory, taking in the city of Sherbrooke and the regional municipalities of Haut-Saint-Francois and Granit. Canada is a driving force in the Dark Skies movement and has the most designated reserves, all making for some brilliant places to enjoy the night sky. Of the 32 current DSRs, 16 of them are in Canada. The first Canadian DSR was Torrance Barrens in Ontario, designated way back in 1999, and their most recent one being Jasper National Park, which achieved DSR status in 2011.
Another of the ultimate stargazing places in the Southern Hemisphere, Chile’s Atacama Desert lies west of the Andes along the Atlantic Ocean coast. The desert is a vast area of dry sandy landscape far from any large urban areas and is often compared to the landscape of Mars. Thanks to the lack of lighting and broadcasting signals, the skies above Atacama are among the purest. Unsurprisingly, there are 2 major observatories in the Atacama Desert, at Paranal and La Silla.
The Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico are considered to be one of the very best places to go stargazing in the USA. The steep slopes of the mountain escarpments are the ideal location to view the stars and bodies, such as Orion’s Belt, Venus and the Moon. They can be easily seen with the naked eye, but are even better viewed through high powered binoculars or a telescope, which can be hired from the Astronomy Park located in Weed, at an elevation of 7,269 feet. The high desert skies are subject to very little light pollution
Somerset and Devon are two of the best places to go stargazing in the South of England. Large parts of these two counties are covered by the Exmoor National Park, easily accessible from various urban hubs. Since 2009, when dark sky awareness really took off within the park's core zone of 81 sq km and along its boundaries, Exmoor National Park has hosted a variety of programs on astronomy and dark sky conservation, kick-started during UNESCO's International Year of Astronomy. Visit the Bronze Age burial mounds and imagine how our ancestors were probably stargazing the same constellations when wearing fur was still politically correct.
The really great thing about the best places to go stargazing is that they are as equally spectacular in the daytime, all being areas of outstanding beauty with plenty of tourist attractions. Are you a stargazer?
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