12 Top Places for Stargazing

12 Top Places for Stargazing

A gold International Dark Sky Park, Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah has an Evening Astronomy Program and Night Sky Watch Program to teach visitors about astronomy, light pollution and night sky protection. At these sessions, telescopes are available to give stargazers a closer look at celestial bodies, including planets and stars. For more information, visit Natural Bridges’ website.

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On a clear night in Big Bend National Park, visitors can see as far as 2 million light years away to the Andromeda galaxy. Located on the border between the United States and Mexico, the remote location, lack of clouds and low humidity of this park allow for incredible views of the skies.

With conditions in Mauna Kea ideal for monitoring the night sky, it’s no surprise that the summit is home to the world’s largest astronomical observatory with telescopes operated by astronomers from 11 countries. A dry atmosphere, high proportion of clear nights and limited light pollution allow researchers to conduct detailed studies.

To soak in the views, head to the Visitor Information Station at Mauna Kea for the nightly stargazing program. From 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., you can see stars, nebulae, planets, galaxies and supernova remnants with telescopes. Knowledgeable staff and volunteers can point out constellations with a laser pointer and answer questions.

This park is an ideal place to visit in the spring, with an intoxicating combination of the sweet smell of cherry blossoms and clear night skies. Established as a Dark Sky Park in 2008, the 48-acre protected area sits within Susquehannock State Forest and features a Stars-N-Parks Program for the public. Within the park, there is the gated Astronomy Observation Field and also a Night Sky Viewing area north of Route 44.

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As the newest gold-tier International Dark Sky Park and the largest national park unit in the lower 48, Death Valley offers ample space for stargazing. Averaging less than two inches of rain per year, you’re almost guaranteed clear skies. Visit April, May, September or October for the most comfortable nighttime temperatures. During these months, the average low is in the 60’s and 70’s.

 

James Hilder, Forestry Commission Scotland

Totaling 300 square miles, Britain’s largest forest park also boasts some of the darkest skies in Europe. Astronomy enthusiasts from across the continent flock to this corner of southwest Scotland to see the Andromeda Galaxy, the Aurora Borealis and stellar nurseries, where new suns of distant planets are born.

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Originally built as a sanctuary for migratory birds, this area has also become a mecca for stargazers. In 2006, Clayton Lake State Park became only the second park in the United States to build, maintain and operate an observatory. Four years later, it became a gold International Dark Sky Park. Officials regularly put on star parties for visitors, as well as for children from local schools. For more information about these gatherings, visit the New Mexico States Parks website.

Pavol Duriš

Located in eastern Slovakia, there’s more than one reason to visit this dark sky park. Spend your days exploring indigenous fir and beech forests listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as the many national cultural monuments (the park has more than any other area of the country). When the sun sets, get out your binoculars, lay out a blanket, and enjoy stargazing in one of the darkest places in eastern Europe. The incredible conditions are the reason the park is home to the Astronomical observatory at Kolonica Saddle, pictured on the left.

Each year, the Jasper Dark Sky Preserve hosts its annual Dark Sky Festival. Mark your calendar for October 25-27, 2013, when you can take advantage of events including the kids’ space cadet fair, astronomy presentations and night sky photography sessions.

 

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In the high Andes, a lack of atmospheric turbulence makes for some of the best observation sites on the planet. The conditions are so good, in fact, that the UK recently committed to build the world's largest telescope on the mountain Cerro Armazones. At a cost of more than $135 million, The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will help capture the universe’s earliest moments. Even if you can’t visit this site, many other areas of the Chilean Andes afford equally amazing views. In fact, this area is covered with observation sites used by various teams of international scientists.

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Designated a Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 2010, Kejimkujik is committed to protecting the darkness for the benefit of stargazers, as well as wildlife. The best time to visit is in the summer, when park rangers offer interpretation programs for the public. For more information, visit the park’s website.

 

John Hlynialuk

Celebrating its 40th year of outdoor education, the Bluewater Education Center provides an incredible location to learn about the natural world. Attend one of the center’s annual events and end the night gazing up at the sky around this 320-acre site and its surrounding UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

12 Top Places for Stargazing