Have you ever felt humbled and overwhelmed at the same time by the beauty of our world in a clear, star-studded sky? It is the stuff for lovers, astrologers, contemplators, and fairy tales-seekers when seeing the stars with the naked eye. Stargazing lets you feel the immensity of the skies, our universe, and the entire galaxy yet to be fully explored by man.
Unfortunately, due to light pollution, the skies are not as clear as they once were. But there’s a catch, some places in this world still provide the clearest and best stargazing experience. So get ready to explore the following spots.
Boasting a 5,000m elevation, the Atacama is teeming with international scientists, observatories, and antennas expectantly angled towards the sky trying to trace our “cosmic origins.” Why so? Because this stretch of the desert has the optimal conditions for stargazing: high altitude, unpolluted skies (very little cloud cover), and the driest air (no radio interference/polarity) on the planet.
From here, you can easily see the skies of the southern hemisphere; the Fornax galaxy clusters and the Tarantula Nebula among others. This place hosts the world’s most powerful radio telescope-the ALMA observatory.
With sunshine almost all year round and clear weather, Tenerife has carved a name for itself among popular holiday destinations. But did you know that it’s also among the best places for stargazing? In fact, this island has a flight path control law to protect its good stargazing conditions. With an altitude of about 4,000m above sea level, closeness to the equator and tropical storms, Tenerife has the darkest, clearest skies.
The Teide Observatory is among its jewels famed for sophisticated telescopes that have aided new discoveries about the sun since 1964. The island hosts the Starmus Festival to celebrate music, science, and art.
Tagged “New Zealand’s greatest gifts”, it’s the only one of dark sky reserves in the southern hemisphere and the world’s largest among 11. Located on a plateau called the Mackenzie Basin, it hosts the Mt. John Observatory; a scientific astronomy observatory operated by Japanese, U.S.A., and German scientists.
Its stargazing asset is its clarity and darkness of the night sky. From here you can spot the Milky Way’s Magellanic Cloud satellite galaxies (only visible from the southern hemisphere) all year round.
The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada listed Jasper National Park among dark sky preserves in 2011. This was because virtually no artificial lighting is visible at night from this park. Dark sky preserves commit themselves to reduce or eliminate any form of light pollution so as to preserve the night sky, promising unrivaled stargazing experiences.
Located in the majestic Canadian Rockies, Jasper Park hosts an annual Dark Sky Festival with daytime solar viewings, telescope workshops, and rocket launches for children.
Although the Chinese interpreted solar eclipses as inauspicious omens, they have kept records of them for thousands of years. One of the planet’s earliest observatories was established in the 15th century in Beijing under the Ming Dynasty. This rich stargazing history can be attributed to, among others, great clear skies in the Yangtze Valley as well as beautiful landscapes and scenery.
The Three Gorges Dam Project coupled with the valley itself has helped avoid air pollution witnessed in big Chinese cities thereby ensuring sky visibility remains high always.
You may be wondering what lies this far north? Well, it’s the aurora borealis or northern lights. These lights are not just a band of light rippling across the night sky; they’re as glowing, and colorful, as they’re awe inspiring. This phenomenon is attributed to magnetically charged particles in the earth’s upper atmosphere driven and trapped there by solar winds from the sun.
Kiruna is home to the Estrange Space Center where satellite design, as well as rocket and stratospheric balloon launches are conducted. It is poised to become the center of space tourism in Europe with plans under way to make it a spaceport for private journeys into space.
4,200m above sea level, you will find thirteen huge telescopes, among them the world’s largest optical telescope on Mount Mauna Kea. It is a dormant volcano but if you cannot acclimatize to high elevations, you will experience altitude sickness.
If you are a serious sky enthusiast, the high altitude and low light pollution of Mauna Kea will give you fantastic sunrises and sunsets in addition to perfect stargazing.
Stargazing is always a mind blowing activity whether you are using professional gear or lying in some open field somewhere. Although it’s hard not to feel tiny when gazing into space, scan the limits of the observable universe and wonder at the mysteries the world still holds.