From poetry to science, man has always looked to the stars for inspiration. Space is a source of infinite wonder – from the beginning of time men have dreamed of traveling through space and unveiling its mystery.
There are about 400.000.000 stars in our galaxy but even under the best conditions we can see no more than 3.000 with the naked eye. Discover some of the best spots for stargazing, but before going to them make sure you check the lunar cycle!
Atacama Desert, Chile
“Ni pena ni miedo”, “Without pain or fear” : these are the words of the one mile long geoglyph – only readable from the sky – written by poet Raul Zurita in the sand of salt and lava of the Atacama Desert, a 600-mile stretch of high plateau in northern Chile. It is the driest place on Earth, as it never rains, and the ideal place to host the Very Large Telescope (VLT), which consists of four individual telescopes, each with a primary mirror 8.2 m across. The telescopes are named Antu, Kueyen, Melipal, and Yepun, all words for astronomical objects in the Mapuche language: a perfect place to see the clearest sky in the world, and to experience life – in Zurita’s words – without pain or fear.
Antarctica is the most remote place on our planet, and its territory is still largely unknown. The extreme conditions make it the place on Earth that most resembles outer space, with its temperature dropping to – 80 degrees during the 6 month-long winter of complete darkness. The South Pole Telescope is the supreme place for stargazing. The Pole’s high altitude (2.8 km/1.7 mi above sea level) means the atmosphere is thin, and the extreme cold keeps the amount of water vapor in the air low. Because the sun does not rise and set daily, the atmosphere at the Pole is particularly stable. A good plus: no interference from the sun during the months of polar night.
Maunakea, also known by its original name Mauna a Wakea is a sacred place for Hawaiians. Wakea, sometimes translated as “Sky Father” is considered the father of the Hawaiian people. It is a dormant volcano that stands 4,207 m above sea level, but when measured from its oceanic base, Mauna Kea is over 10,000 m tall and is the tallest mountain on Earth. Surprisingly, this is not only a perfect place to stargaze, but also for skiing.
Jantar Mantar, India
Jaipur is a city in the north of India better known as the Pink City. In 1876 Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the whole city with the Indian color of hospitality to welcome the Prince and Princess of Wales. But Jaipur also hosts a very special place: one of the five astronomical observatories built between 1724 and 1730 by Maharajah Sawaii Jai Singh II of Jaipur. The observatories, or “Jantar Mantars” as they are commonly known, incorporate multiple buildings of unique form, each with a specialized function for astronomical measurements that still works. An unmissable venue for star-lovers.
Brecon Beacons Reserve, Wales
Brecon Beacons is a Dark-Sky reserve in Wales. International Dark Sky Reserves are lands with exceptional starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational and cultural heritage and public enjoyment. No wonderDylan Thomas wrote the poem “Sometimes the sky’s too bright” – he might well have been inspired by the bright Wales stars.
Pic du Midi, France
Observing conditions of the Pic du Midi, on the French Pyrenees, is a truly special experience. Back in 1774, when chemist Jean Darcet and physicist Gaspard Monge climbed the 2877m of the Pic to study the pressure of the atmosphere they realized it was a perfect place for stargazing. In the XIX century a fully-fledged meteorological station and astronomical observatory was built, and in 1963 NASA, thanks to the purity of this spot’s atmosphere, chose this place to prepare the Apollo mission and to draw the first lunar cartography. Today the observatory has a guesthouse where up to 19 visitors can be accommodated, and it even has an asteroid entitled “20488 Pic-du-Midi”.
Aoraki Mackenzie Reserve, New Zealand
The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in New Zealand, covering 4300 sq km, is the biggest dark sky reserve in the world and one of the best places to observe the Southern Hemisphere’s constellations of the Southern Cross or the Magellanic Clouds. There is a unique possibility of looking at the sky from the 38-degree pools of Tekapo Springs and enjoy the ultimate relaxing experience.
With its low population density, low air pollution and nonexistent light pollution, Gamsberg in Namibia is one of the top venues for stargazing throughout the Southern Hemisphere. The Dark Sky Reserve is located on an 800m wide and 2347 m high desert plateau in the red-dunes of the Sossusvlei area – a landscape that reminds the Martian ground. Not far from there is Deadvlei, a depression formed by an ancient oasis where several black dead acacia trees stand, which cannot decompose because of the dry air, thus making the atmosphere even more surreal. It is a place where time seems to have stopped hundreds of years ago.
Death Valley, U.S.
Death Valley is the hottest place on earth. The world record highest air temperature of 57 degrees was recorded at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913. Summer temperatures often top 49 degrees in the shade with overnight lows dipping into the – 30s. The absence of clouds is the reason why Death Valley National Park offers several ideal stargazing spots like Harmony Borax Works, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and Badwater Basin – the lowest place in the US, at 86 m below sea level – thanks to an incredible darkness. The complete opposite of Las Vegas, a city of blinding lights.
Teide Peak is a volcano on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands in Spain. With its 3,718-metre summit, Teide was a sacred mountain for the aboriginal Guanches, who believed that Teide held up the sky. This is not surprising considering the starry nights that can be admired from this spot, where one can see 83 of the 88 officially recognized constellations – all the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere and most constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.
Images courtesy: NASA and STScI.