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Dark skies are increasingly rare as the human population becomes more and more urbanised, man-made lights obscure our view of the stars and other celestial features. A dark and clear sky is needed for the best views of stars and other celestial features. A few of the world’s most spectacular night skies can be found in isolated and difficult-to-reach locations, while others are Astro tourism hotspots with national parks and observatories. Here are 9 of the best spots on the planet to see the night sky at its most spectacular.
Acadia National Park
September is potentially the perfect month for stargazing and astrophotography in Acadia (which is the photography of astronomical and celestial objects in the night sky). It’s not only warm enough to stand outside in short sleeves and gaze at the stars, but the Milky Way is also apparent shortly after sunset. The planets are apparent at all times of the year, but views of the Milky Way like this can be seen in both summer and early autumn. It’s no wonder, then, that the area hosts the Acadia Night Sky Festival every September.
Mount Rainier National Park
Over the winter, the active volcano that occupies Mount Rainier National Park will take on a different hue of orange. Since its latitude of 47° N places it far from the Arctic Circle, where the aurora borealis normally hangs out, the “grey girl” can travel south during extra-strong displays and be seen on the northern horizon from here. Sunrise Point is a perfect observing spot in Mount Rainier National Park. At 6,400 ft, it is the park’s highest point and is accessible by vehicle (1,950 meters).
Cherry Springs State Park
Its spectacular dark sky conditions and services for stargazers, astronomers, and astrophotographers make it famous at this time of year. Its Overnight Astronomy Observation Field is the draw. For those that register in advance, it provides a 360-degree view of the night sky from the top of a 2,300-foot (700-meter) high peak. It also holds celebrity events on a regular basis. Cherry Springs, located only a few hours from major urban centres such as Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C., but surrounded by the mostly undeveloped Susquehannock State Forest, will get very busy starting in April (which is when the above image of the Milky Way was shot). Cherry Springs is now a “gold tier” International Dark Sky Park, which means it is one of the darkest places on the planet, according to the International Dark-Sky Association.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
The Mueller Hut Track is one of New Zealand’s most scenic walks, with panoramic views of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park – and, of course, the night sky overhead. This picture exemplifies that any stargazer, astronomer, and astrophotographer should visit the Southern Hemisphere at least once in their lives. While the Milky Way is brighter, concentrate your attention on the right-hand side of the above chart. The Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud are two phenomena that are difficult to view from north of the equator. Dwarf galaxies orbit the Milky Way, each with billions of stars, and their appearance in night sky photographs is a sign of a daring sky-watcher. Between December and April, New Zealand, Australia, southern Africa, and South America offer the finest views of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.
According to Tafreshi, satellite photos of the west of Australia’s Outback show exactly how dark the area is. “Many of the area’s National Parks are famous spots for stargazing,” he says. “Due to the Milky Way’s vivid central field expanding above, the southern hemisphere horizon is much more eye-catching than the northern view.”
Many of these locations are parks or other types of protected areas like nature preserves. Since they are mostly located far from cities and have few electric lighting systems, national parks in the United States and elsewhere are often excellent places to witness authentically black night skies. Wyoming, which is home to Yellowstone National Park and has a sparse population, is one such state noted for its spectacular night sky views.
Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, is home to the state’s highest peak as well as the best stargazing in the country. The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station, located about halfway up Mauna Kea, which rises to about 14,000 feet above sea level, provides guests regular stargazing programmes and speciality tours with telescopes. Visitors will drive their own four-wheel-drive vehicle or join a driven excursion to the volcano’s summit from there. However, passengers are encouraged to take a break at the halfway point to acclimate to the sudden elevation change.
Denali National Park Reserve
The unspoiled scenery of Denali National Park isn’t just for sightseeing on the ground—visitors are advised to look up at the moon, where stars, planets, and even the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) can be seen in the dim night sky for much of the year. Many looking for the best stargazing can visit the national park in the fall, winter, or spring, when the place enjoys long periods of darkness, allowing them to enjoy prolonged hours of world-class stargazing. This 6-million-acre land preserve in Alaska is home to a variety of native species, including grizzly bears and caribou, as well as Denali Mountain, North America’s tallest peak.
Atacama Desert and Elqui Valley
In 2015, the 90,000-acre Elqui Valley, which is also noted for wine production, was designated as the world’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary. The Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary is named after the 20th-century Nobel Prize-winning poet Gabriela Mistral, who grew up in the Chilean region. The tourist-friendly town of San Pedro de Atacama, about five hours north of the Elqui Valley, offers a mix of budget hostels and luxurious hotels in the Atacama Desert, including the sustainable Atacama Lodge, which offers guided stargazing experiences in the region.
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