Many of us live in or near cities with such bright lights, that we do not even notice the stars. Even if you did pull out your telescope, it is a less than ideal viewing experience. To get a great view of the night sky, I recommend a trip to an International Dark Sky Park or International Dark Sky Reserve.
As of 2023, there are 115 Dark Sky Parks and 20 Dark Sky Reserves, all of which are open to the public for viewing. Escape to one of these remote areas, and get a glimpse of what Copernicus, the Father of Astronomy, may have experienced back in 1543.
The Island of Ireland
Sure, Ireland's skies are known for their rainbows, but after dark, they become a cosmic wonderland! Head to one of the five recognized dark sky reserves and parks for a mesmerizing show of sparkling stars.
Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve (Kerry, Ireland) Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve was the country’s first International Dark Sky Reserve in 2014. The best viewing is said to be at the foot of the Coomanaspig Pass and by old watchtower on Bray Head.
Mayo Dark Sky Park (54.04464, -9.62917) By day. the visit the park to see one of the largest expanses of peatland in Europe, and one of the largest remaining examples of a blanket bog habitat remaining in Western Europe. By night, the park is acknowledged as one of the best spot for stargazing in the world! Mayo Dark Sky Park is the first park in Ireland that has been accredited by the International Dark Sky Association. Three prime locations to set up are the Ballycroy Visitor Centre boardwalk, the Brogan Carroll Bothy, and the Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail boardwalk path. Festivals are also held twice yearly.
Om Dark Sky Park and Observatory (54.71022, -6.87889) OM Dark Sky Park & Observatory (formally known as Davagh Forest) was accredited in 2020 and is the first International Dark Sky Park in Northern Ireland. It is home to the Beaghmore Stone Circles, early Bronze Age megalithic features, stone circles and cairns. There are also walking and mountain biking trails for day use. The observatory is home to a 14 inch LX600 Meade telescope and the visitor center hosts daily tours of its interactive exhibition among other informative events.
The southern skies were important to the indigenous people of Latin America. Many of them are said to have aligned their villages with the stars and planets. It wasn't until the mid-20th century that Europeans and Americans set out to study the skies south of the equator, building observatories throughout the country once they noticed Chile has the best year-round conditions for viewing. With no light pollution and more than 200 cloudless nights per year, Northern Chile is an astronomer's dream!
Atacama Desert, Chile Just west of the Andes mountains sits this vast, 49,000-square-mile desert...the driest desert in the world. This astronomer's paradise is a massive nothing-but-nature landscape with the darkest skies you'll ever experience. If you really want to make a trip out of it, make sure to visit some of the most powerful scientific observatories in the world. Projects such as ALMA, Tololo, and Paranal are waiting to show you the state-of-the-art technology used to research the universe.
Māori ancestors possessed a wealth of astronomical knowledge that they referred to as "tātai arorangi". They integrated their knowledge into their daily lives by using the night sky to navigate to the island and the ocean, to figure out the best time to plant their crops, and as a seasonal guide. The Aoraki Mackenzie Reserve seeks to honor that history by keeping the night sky a protected and integral part of the areaʼs natural and cultural landscape. They have done so by installing outdoor lighting controls in the 1980's, which has also been beneficial to local wildlife.
Aoraki Mackenzie, New Zealand The mountainous scenery during the day is gorgeous, but many people flock here just to see the stars! This International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR) is offers a truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When entering the reserve, the traffic sign even reads "Enjoy the Stars." Their experienced guides will introduce you to the beautiful southern night sky with a full hour tour using the naked eye, astro-binoculars and state of the art 14 inch and 11 inch astronomy telescopes. And if the weather isn't great, your guide will take you on a "live" 4k viewing of New Zealand's night skies from inside the domed planetarium while you sit in reclining chairs.
Striking landscapes that make you feel as of you've landed on another planet, and vast national parks and conservancies, aren't the only reason to visit Namibia. It is also home to one of Africa's largest private nature reserves, which lies in one of the naturally darkest places on earth: Namibiaʼs NamibRand Nature Reserve.
NamibRand Nature Reserve (IDSR) The Reserve originated in 1984 to help protect and conserve the unique ecology and wildlife of the southwest Namib Desert. It is also dedicated to preservation of the area’s starry night skies. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can spend the night in an “open air” unit and view the night sky from the comfort of your bed!
When most people think of France, they envision the strolling around the City of Lights, sipping wine with views of rolling vineyards, skiing in Chamonix, and basking in the sun in the French Riviera. Those of you that love gazing at the stars will be happy to know there is a fantastic 19th century observatory that is open to the public.
Pic du Midi, France The Pic du Midi is a mountain in the French Pyrenees that became famous for its mind-boggling starry night views. Some telescopes are available for use, and a guide is available to answer questions throughout the night. While nighttime is great for viewing the stars, daytime is perfect for visiting the planetarium, which is tallest in Europe and has the oldest dome in the world!
Nuie is a small coral island (yet is the largest coral island in the world) that is located in the South Pacific, northeast of New Zealand. The locals are known as Niueans, and they have a long history of star navigation and a life regulated by lunar cycles and star positions. The elders have a deep knowledge of the sky, and are tasked with teaching it to the younger generations, so the new designation brings a sense of pride. Travelers can get to the island by plane and take astro-tours with local Niueans. Magellanic Clouds and the Andromeda constellation are just two of the many things you will see from Nuie.
The United States & Mexico
The United States has the most Dark Sky spaces in the World, many of which are found in the National Park System. We share the largest Dark Sky property with our neighbor, Mexico.
Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve (U.S./Mexico) Encompassing a massive 9 million acres, the Reserve spans from Fort Davis, Texas down into Mexico, which is home to three protected areas (Maderas del Carmen, Ocampo, and Cañón de Santa Elena). This joint venture makes the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve the world’s first bi-national Reserve. The McDonald Observatory is located near Fort Davis, and is open to the public on specific days. They offer star gazing parties, but tickets are limited and go quickly, so make sure to plan ahead of time.
Are you ready to witness the overwhelming number of twinkling white stars and purplish watercolor hues of galaxies far, far away? Which would you choose first? If you need help with the logistics, I am happy to help!