13Oct2017

Best Dark Sky Locations Around The World

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It’s probably happened to all of us at least once — you hear about an astronomical event happening that you should be able to see in your area, only to walk outside and find yourself blinded by street lamps, house lights and other light pollution.

It’s hard to spot a meteor when you can’t even see the stars! Traveling to a dark sky location is your best option if you want to catch a glimpse of the universe. So, where are the best dark sky locations in the world, and what should you bring with you when you travel there?

We’re going to split the list up by location — specifically, sites in the northern hemisphere and sites in the southern hemisphere — just in case you’re not looking to travel across the equator to find the perfect stargazing spot.

Southern Hemisphere Dark Sky Locations

  1. Wiruna, Australia

If you’re in New South Wales and want to see the stars, a trip to Wiruna is a must. This area isn’t a Dark Sky Reserve, but it is one of the best places in the southern hemisphere to see the stars. The only caveat is that the Astronomical Society of New South Wales owns the location and you do need to be a member of the organization to utilize the observation facilities on most nights. Keep an eye out for their open nights when they allow non-members to come take in the sights or look into a membership so you can enjoy some of the darkest skies in NSW.

  1. Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand

Made up of the Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the nearby Mackenzie Basin, the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve on the South Island of New Zealand is a stargazer’s dream. This area is home to the Mt. John Observatory, and after its establishment, light control was implemented to reduce the amount of local light pollution.

You can bring your own telescope, but if you don’t have one handy don’t worry — the Hillary Deck has telescopes available for visitor use!

  1. NambiRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

While there are plenty of places in Africa where light pollution is low, the NambiRand Nature Reserve in Namibia is the only certified Dark Sky reserve in the entire continent. The Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust Centre, which was initially established to preserve the local ecology, runs the sanctuary. If you decide to visit, expect a comprehensive education on the desert’s ecology up to and including the sky — you can even opt for a nighttime trail walk with a guide who can teach you about the constellations.

  1. Kruger National Park, South Africa

It might not be a certified Dark Sky Reserve, but that doesn’t stop Kruger National Park from claiming the title of one of the darkest places on the planet. Kruger is a game reserve, dotted with camps and lodges so tourists can explore the savannah during the day and rest safely at night. The southern area of the park, known as the Singita Game Reserve, hosts astronomy tours that leave at dusk every day. With a good telescope, you might even see Saturn’s rings!

  1. Atacama Desert, Chile

The Atacama Desert is known for being the driest place on earth. NASA has even used it as a test site for future Mars missions, because of its resemblance to the Red Planet. There are very few people there, which means no light pollution, and the fact that the desert rests between two mountain ranges means that the skies are almost always clear, making it perfect for stargazing. Large telescopes have been built here to take advantage of the clear skies, but that shouldn’t discourage you from setting up your own campsite and telescope — just make sure you bring plenty of water!

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Northern Hemisphere Dark Sky Locations

  1. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park is a fantastic place to see natural Texas wildlife during the day and more stars than you can imagine at night. For $20 per car, you can see more than 2,000 stars with the naked eye — at least according to the park’s literature. The rangers even lead astronomy programs if you’re unfamiliar with the local constellations.

The park is one of the best locations for stargazing and is thought to have the lowest level of light pollution in the lower 48 states. You can even bring a tent or RV and camp out, though it’s important to make sure that the campgrounds are open. Big Bend is one of a number of sites in the United States considered to be Dark Sky Reserves by the International Dark Sky Association. You’ll hear this classification mentioned a few more times as we continue down our list.

  1. Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, Ireland

Nestled between the Kerry Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve is one of the best places in Europe to set up your telescope and watch the stars.  They also offer astronomy classes throughout the year, so if you’re in northern Europe and interested in brushing up on your astronomy skills, Kerry International is the place to go. This is another Dark Sky Reserve and the only Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserve in the entire Northern Hemisphere.

  1. Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff has a fascinating history when it comes to looking at the stars. Not only is it the first International Dark Sky City, an honor obtained in 2001, but it’s also home to the telescope that first discovered the dwarf planet Pluto. You can take a look through the Lowell Telescope and explore the museum during the day and set up your favorite telescope at night to discover all that the Arizona night sky has to offer.

  1. Galloway Forest Park, Scotland

Galloway Forest Park is the first Dark Sky location named in the United Kingdom and on good nights, you can see upwards of 7,000 stars. First, stop at one of their three visitor centers to brush up on the visible constellations and get a feel for the park’s layout. Then find a spot, set up your telescope and watch as the stars come out.

If you prefer to have someone aim the telescope for you, Galloway is also home to the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory.

  1. Chaco Canyon National Park, New Mexico

If you’re in the American Midwest, take the time to visit Chaco Canyon National Park. During the day, you can explore ancient Pueblo ruins that many archeologists believe might have been built specifically for viewing these locations stunning celestial views once the sun sets. If you visit during the summer and fall, on Friday and Saturday nights you can enjoy free astronomy presentations that include local cultural history.

Chaco Canyon was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2013.

And there you have it — the best Dark Sky locations on the planet. Even if they aren’t all certified Dark Sky Reserves, they all deserve a place on your bucket list, whether you’re an avid stargazer or just a casual observer with a pair of binoculars.

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Written By: Megan Ray Nichols – Associate Editor of Astro Space News

Megan is also a freelance science writer & the Editor of Schooled By Science.

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