Best Stargazing Locations Around the World Mapped
This interactive map shows dark places around the world, ideal for stargazing. Each blue circle represents a stargazing sites. The colored rings represent the type of location. The yellow polygons represent urban areas with light pollution. To find the name, and more information about these sites, hover over the map. To get a closer look, zoom in. For more information scroll below.
Finding a place to look for stars does not sound complicated. You need a dark area. Once you find it, it is preferable to be in a dry or desertic region. You don't want clouds and water vapor to cover the stars.
This is easier said than done. As global populations grow and economic development reaches all corners of the world, more homes have electric light. Not only that, there are more roads with light poles, more illuminated parks, and more bright patios. Finding a spot to see the stars is getting harder, and even further from the average person.
A Natural Lightscape is a sky with no brightness from artificial lights. In 2001 John E. Bortle created a scale to measure how pristine is the sky of a specific location.
A scale of 1 is a natural and pristine sky location. A scale of 9 is what you usually see from an average city. In such locations you can see prominent stars and a planet, but most of the small stars, or the Milky Way, are not visible.
For a neat comparison of all these levels check this link Bortle Scale.
INTERNATIONAL DARK SKY ASSOCIATION, IDA
Fortunately, the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) was created to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world, to protect and preserve dark skies for present and future generations.
The sites awarded a designation by IDA, are represented with blue circles on this map. Depending on their characteristics, they have a different colored ring (see legend) and receive a different designation described below.
- International Dark Sky Communities: These are organized communities that adopt quality outdoor lighting and educate their residents.
- International Dark Sky Parks: These are public or private lands dedicated to the conservation of nature, they also adopt good outdoor lighting.
- International Dark Sky Reserves: They consist of a dark core and a periphery where there are controls to keep it dark.
- International Dark Sky Sanctuaries: These are the most remote and darkest places. Their conservation state is the most fragile.
- Urban Night Sky Places: These sites are large urban areas, whose planning promote darkness, even though they have lots of artificial night light.
- Dark Sky Friendly Developments of Distinction: This is a retired designation. It was used for subdivisions and master communities that promoted natural night sky.
These designations are also visible when you hover over each dark stargazing site.
BEST PLACES FOR STARGAZING IN THE USA
The list of International Dark Sky sites, is an excellent guide for stargazers. The best part of this list is their commitment to keeping dark skies. It is also a guide for community residents.
Using the IDA list as a basis, here are the best places for Stargazing!
Joshua Tree National Park, California
This area boasts one of the darkest nights in Southern California. It also has the designation of International Dark Sky Park by IDA.
Because of its desertic climate, this park is an ideal setting. Your chances of having a cloud in the sky are almost null in this area. Just watch out for cactus. You don't want to step, or fall on one of them!
Joshua Tree offers the Annual Night Sky Festival. It is located right outside the park at the Limit Nature Observatory, and celebrated in the fall.
The festival offers 20 telescopes, music, and sky stories. Daytime activities include astronomy lectures and nature walks. Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon was committed to retrofitting lights in the park to encourage dark nights and bright visible stars. In 2019 it was awarded the International Dark Sky Status.
This park is not just ideal because it is semi-arid, but because it is high above a good portion of the atmosphere. Located on the Colorado Plateau, it is 7,000 feet above sea level. It is possible to see the sky without the distortion of most of the water molecules and aerosols, that can be present in the atmosphere at lower elevations.
Every summer, Grand Canyon has an Annual Star Party Event, where amateur astronomers bring their telescopes and share them with visitors. Grand Canyon Night Skies
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Most of Yellowstone is free of artificial lights. Some developed areas have lights, but have been replaced with more efficient ones, that direct light downward.
The sheer size of the park is an asset when it comes to viewing stars. These are 5 sites recommended to see the stars Yellowstonepark.com.
- Mount Washburn: This is an excellent spot to see the sky, as it can reach 10,243 feet over sea level.
- Upper Geyser Basin: This encompasses Old Faithful and Castle Geyser. This are safe and convenient locations for families.
- Mammoth Hot Springs: The boardwalks to the upper terraces will give you a high vantage point for stargazing.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Famous for its Hoodoos or irregular columns of rock, this is one of the best parks for stargazing. It has one of the oldest astronomy programs in the US!
The park has many overlooks to admire the stars. But the best option is one of the 100 basic astronomy programs offered per year at the park.
The park also has an Astronomy festival in June, with astronomers from Salt Lake City Astronomical Society. There are also full moon ranger-led hikes.
The most recommended sites in the park according to spacetourismguide.com are:
- Natural Bridge Overlook: You can see stars over and under a bridge!
- Inspiration Point: An area with skies wide open.
- Farview Point: From this site you can see Arizona 160 miles away which means, big open skies to see stars.
- Mossy Cave Trail: This area is perfect to avoid the crowds, and has a waterfall as a backdrop!
Glacier National Park, Montana
This International Dark Sky designation is special as it is a transboundary one. The park shares the designation with Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada!
The park has ensured the minimum illumination to ensure dark nights.
The park has viewing events during the summer at various locations. It has cycling at night, driving up Going-to-the-Sun Road at night, experiencing the view of a full moon, and the northern lights. Source: Glacierparkcollection.com
Death Valley National Park, California
Death Valley National Park is designated as the largest Dark Sky National Park in the country by the International Dark Sky Association. Because of this, the park is designated as a “Gold Tier” Dark Sky Park, the highest level awarded.
During the winter months, rangers hold stargazing events with astronomy organizations. Astronomers bring their telescopes to see the stars. It is also possible to see the sun under a telescope during day time.
The most recommended sites in Death Valley are:
- Harmony Borax Works: Nice site to see the stars with little obstruction by the mountains. There are also historic buildings that will be a great backdrop for star photography.
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: Also a great opening to see the sky and the stars.
- Badwater Basin: Watching the stars from the salt flats is a unique experience!
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend has one of the darkest skies in the lower 48 states for stargazing. This is because how small and spread is the local population.
Another reason it's' so dark, is because its neighbor Big Bend Ranch State Park, is also an International Dark Sky Park. The combined protected dark skies in the Big Bend is 1,112,000 acres!
The Big Bend National Park offers star parties, moonlight walks, and discussions about stargazing throughout the year.
The parks location is so advantageous that it has its own Night sky quality map. You can check it here: NPS.Maps
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
Hard to believe this park so close to the densely populated east coast has a "Gold Level Dark Sky" Park designation by the Dark Sky Association.
The best time for stargazing at the park is fall and winter. Even though it is a bit cold for stargazing; fall and winter have less humidity and the extended night-time hours make it ideal for stargazers.
Twice a year the park has Star Parties. These parties bring professional astronomers for public viewing with high powered telescopes and astronomy talks.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Mauna Kea is in Hawaii's Big Island. This is one of five volcanoes, and is still dormant. The summit is 14,000 feet (4,267m) above sea level.
Mauna Kea's height and location in the middle of the Pacific, makes it almost free of light pollution. The site is above the clouds and it is one of the world's best stargazing locations.
This site does not have a Dark Sky Association designation, but it stands on its own because of its location and because it is already and observatory! Furthermore, there are 12 independent telescopes with different fields of view. This is one of the most scientifically productive sites for astronomy world-wide. Maunakeaobservatories.org.
The mount is sought for sunsets and stargazing, but visitors must leave the summit 30min after sunset.
TIPS FOR STARGAZING
Not all stargazing locations are the same, but this tips might be good to check before you leave!
- Use red lights only. Avoid flashlights, headlamps, or cellphones. It takes 20 to 30 minutes for the human eye to adjust to dim light. You can change a flashlight color with a bit of tape and red cellophane.
- Bring a telescope. If you can't afford one or carry one, bring binoculars. They allow you to see much more.
- Bring a chair. Preferably a lightweight folding one if the site you want is far away. Standing for long periods, might wear you out. Remember it might take you 30 minutes to see the stars in all their beauty.
- Go during the new moon. The bright light of the moon will decrease the number of stars you see.
- Bring food and water. Searching for stars or planets might take time. If you are in a remote location it is better to be ready.
- If you know how to use one, bring a star chart. (I use free apps like Google Sky Map and Night Sky, but as mentioned before the glare will ruin your experience in a dark site.)
- Check the star almanac, to get an idea of what might be visible and where.
- Bring a blanket, many of these parks get very cold at night, specially if they are up a mountain or in a desert.
- Pick an open area. Trees and mountains in the horizon might block some of the coolest stars!
The following is a list of my favorite items for stargazing found on Amazon.
- The book Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope - and How to Find Them by Guy Consolmagno: Is an all time popular beginner's guide to stargazing. It shows you how to observe celestial bodies, and how they actually look on the telescope.
- Celestron - Large Aperture Binoculars with 70mm Objective Lens: Are a great alternative to a telescope, although they are still a bit heavy. If used for extended periods of time is better to use them with a tripod. They are ideal for gazing at the moon and larger deep sky objects like the Andromeda galaxy, and the Orion nebula.
- Celestron - AstroMaster 130EQ Newtonian Telescope: this is a beginner's telescope. Easy to carry and portable. Ideal to take to some of the sites mentioned above. With this telescope you can observe Venus and Jupiter complete with four of it's moons.
- Orion 8945 SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope: This telescope is ideal for intermediate users. We have had ours for 9 years! It is a bit heavy and bulky to take to any place. Otherwise it is great for stargazing and observing planets. Because it is relatively popular, there is a big community of users answering questions and giving suggestions.
- Orion 08890 1.25-Inch Premium Telescope Accessory Kit: You are not set with a telescope. You will definitely need eye pieces to double magnification. The kit is also useful because it includes filters that will decrease brightness from objects like the moon.
- Omegon Star Tracker Mini Track LX2 N - Mechanical Travel Mount for Astrophotography with DSLR and Lightweight telescopes: This mini tracker is ideal if you are interested in photography. Once you have traveled that far, you probably want to show off the beautiful skylines you have found. This tracker attaches to your tripod and camera and rotates with the Earth to get the most of the stars in the sky. It is lightweight and does not require batteries.
When artificial outdoor light becomes inefficient, and unnecessary, it is known as light pollution. Densely populated areas, affected by light pollution, are represented with yellow on this map.
Half the population in Europe and two thirds of Americans (except Alaska and Hawaii) have lost the ability to see the Milky Way.
There are different types of Light pollution:
- Sky glow: is the bright halo over urban areas.
- Light Trespass: is unwanted artificial light. Like streetlight spilling on adjacent property.
- Glare: light that shines horizontally
- Overillumination: use of light beyond the required activity. Lighs on, in an empty building.
Light pollution does not just affect stargazing. As mentioned above, excesive and unnecesary use of light, result in wasted money. Not only it is a waste of money, it increases carbon emissions that will enhance Climate Change.
This can be avoided using appropriate and sufficient lighting, plus lights that shine objects, not the sky Interntional Dark Sky Association (IDA) .
Biological Effects of Light Pollution
Artificial Light may prevent trees from adjusting to seasonal variations. In animals, it can alter behavior, including foraging and breeding. This is not just seen in urban but also in rural areas.
Sea Turtles are discouraged or disoriented when trying to lay their eggs on beaches, due to bright lights. Furthermore, newly hatched turtles confuse artificial lights with those from the bright sky horizon over the sea.
Birds also get confused with bright lights from skyscrapers as it attracts them and disorients them.
Frogs on the other hand stop their mating calls when there is artificial light. Bats also alter their feeding habits with artificial light.
Most rodents and carnivores are nocturnal. Artificial light affects their behavior.
The biological effects of light pollution may affect the circadian rhythm of humans. That is the 24 hour day/night cycle that affects human physiologic processes.
The most obvious of these effects is the loss of sleep or sleep disorders Health effects of Light Pollution.
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