Where Are the Best Places in the World 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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December 12, 2013 - 7:00am
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