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Where Are the Best Places to Stargaze?

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Two thirds of the world’s population can’t see the Milky Way. Worse yet, the night sky is so well lit that eight out of ten children can’t see the galaxy’s hazy center. That’s because when a city flips on the power switch, light bulbs shoot energy in every direction—including up. The light hits dust, water vapor, and air molecules, which reflect that light back to earth and blots out the stars. If you want to get away from all that light pollution, put these places on your to-visit list.

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

This 48-acre park in northern PA is considered the darkest point east of the Mississippi. How dark is it? So dark that you can see about 10,000 stars with your naked eye. In fact, the Milky Way shines so visibly that it casts a shadow! No wonder it’s one of only twelve International Dark Sky Parks in the world.

NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

This private reserve in Africa’s Namib Desert boasts some of the darkest skies ever measured by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Stargazing is included on most safari packages, which trek through an isolated 600-acre park.

Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand

When the sun goes down, New Zealand begs you to look up. The stars glitter the brightest on the south island’s Mackenzie Basin, home of the largest International Dark Sky Reserve in the world. The skies are so dark, you can see the Magellanic Clouds and distant dwarf galaxies.

Galloway Forest Park, Scotland

Dubbed the highlands of the lowlands, Galloway is Scotland at its best: lochs, forest, mountains, and stars. And Galloway Forest Park is the only Dark Sky Park in the UK. Almost as dark as a photographer’s dark room, it’s a fantastic spot to catch the aurora borealis—just make sure to visit on a cloudless day!

Zselic Starry Sky Park, Hungary

Nestled in a woodland protection area in southwestern Hungary, Zselic may be the best place in Europe to spy the zodiacal lights. With barely a hint of light pollution coming from the city of Kaposvar, it’s unmissable.

Paranal Observatory, Chile

High in the Atacama Desert, Paranal is a stargazer’s paradise. High altitudes and zero cloud cover makes it perfect for gazing at the jewel box nebula.

Death Valley, California

Nine of the world’s 12 dark sky parks are in the U.S. Of those, four are in National Parks. Death Valley is one of the newest—and largest. The only thing keeping Death Valley from being even darker? The neon glow of Las Vegas some 100 miles away.

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What Are the Best Places to See a Sunset?
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What makes sunsets so eye-catching? Air molecules! When the sun shines during the day, air molecules reflect waves of blue and violet light. Our eyes can’t process violet well, so the sky looks blue. Later when the sun sets, those sunbeams travel through more air molecules, which scatter those waves of blue and violet. They scatter so much that we can no longer see them, unveiling the other side of the color spectrum—yellows, oranges, and reds. The closer the sun gets to the horizon, the farther those sunbeams must travel, and the more colorful the sky becomes.

Now that the science is out of the way, here are some of the best places to watch the sun’s late-day lightshow.

Santorini, Greece

In the village of Oia, sugar-white homes capped with blue domes are carved into a cliff-side. Narrow cobblestone paths zigzag up to the town’s pinnacle, an old castle with a postcard view of the greatest sunset in Greece. From there, you can watch oranges and purples splash off the Aegean Sea, bathing Oia’s buildings in dazzling color.

Grand Canyon, USA

When the sun goes down, the Grand Canyon turns up the Technicolor. Light reflects off layers of geological strata, revealing every hue of red and orange imaginable. Views are amazing from both the canyon’s South and North Rim, although you’ll bump into fewer tourists on the north side. Still, if you’re stuck on the south side, Yavapai Point and Hopi Point are musts.

Isle of Skye, Scotland

The isle boasts the grandest mountains in all the UK. Stunning green landslips in the northernmost peninsula near the ocean make for a bewitching nighttime view.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. Not only is the 12th-century complex of temples a cultural treasure, it’s also the centerpiece of Cambodia’s national flag. Watch the sunset from Phnom Bakheng Hill and the temples will sparkle.

Masai Mara National Reserve

Masai Mara is the sort of amazing place where lions bask under lone acacia trees. Zebras and wildebeest migrate across the plains. Silhouettes of giraffes tower in the sunset. Although no one is allowed inside the park at night, you’ll still be able to snap a few photos as the sun says goodnight.

Lofoten, Norway

The Norwegian archipelago may seem like a terrible spot to catch a sunset. From May to July, the sun doesn’t go down. In the winter, it never comes up. But the months in between are what make Lofoten dazzling. That’s when the sun dips below the horizon, but doesn’t sink far enough to darken the sky. The result? A hypnotizing, eight-hour lightshow.

The Maldives

Coconut trees. Aqua blue water. White sandy beaches. Bungalows. If that sounds like your kind of paradise, you’ll love the Maldives. The island chain in the Indian Ocean is home to spellbinding sunsets. The colors will make you feel like you’re honeymooning inside a Monet painting.

All images via Thinkstock.

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How Do Skyscrapers Keep Getting Taller?
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Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest skyscraper in the world, rising 2,717 feet. That’s twice as high as the Empire State Building. How can buildings stretch so high without toppling over?

Until the late 1800s, most urban buildings didn’t peak over 10 stories. Getting much taller was physically impossible with the available construction materials. The higher you build with brick and mortar, the thicker the lower walls have to be. The base of a 70-story brick building would have been so thick that there wouldn’t be any room for a lobby.

That all changed as modern steel became more common. Today, all skyscrapers have a skeleton—a steel frame of vertical steel columns and horizontal I-beams. This skeleton (called the superstructure) transfers all of the building’s weight to the vertical columns, which spread the weighty force of gravity down to the building’s foundation.

The foundation, or substructure, usually stretches down all the way to bedrock. Builders may dig a pit hundreds of feet down to solid rock, where a platform of concrete is laid. Holes called footings are drilled deep into the bedrock, and steel beams are secured inside those holes to anchor the building above.

Most skyscrapers may look square and boxy, but they’re actually circular tubes with cantilevered corners. Ever since the 1960s, skyscrapers over 40 stories have been built with a tubular frame—an engineering technique that saves money and frees up floor space because it requires fewer columns inside. (Chicago’s Willis Tower—formerly the Sears Tower—is actually a bundle of nine tubes.) In the middle of tower, a central concrete core contains elevator shafts, stairwells, and the building’s mechanical guts.

That concrete core is especially important on gusty days, allowing most tall buildings to safely sway like a tree in the breeze. Some buildings battle the wind with tuned mass dampers, oil hydraulic systems that hold a 300 to 400-ton concrete weight near the top floor. A computer system monitors the wind and moves the weight, shifting the building’s load from side to side.

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