Finding your way in landscapes new and strange, finding your way home from a sea voyage, finding out the the earth’s place in an evolving universe, finding your way to faith in a changing world: through times reaching back far beyond written history, people have looked up at stars in night’s dark skies for guidance.
More than 80% of the world is now affected by light pollution.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, when rangers at Great Basin National Park in the United States teamed up with people at the Nevada Northern Railway to offer train rides guided by star expert park rangers to explore dark skies at the park, places sold out quickly through dates more than a year in the future.
National parks are great places to look up at the stars as they often feature wilderness areas without many buildings or heavily traveled (and lighted) roads. Even you aren’t able to book a place on a train ride in the near future, you can explore night skies at Great Basin on your own, with tips provided by the park’s website.
A number of national parks in the United States, especially those in the western states, have been recognized by the International Dark Sky Association. I point you to several of these in this story on stars and travel in North America. There are suggestions of places to explore dark skies in Canada in that story as well. Among those are Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia and the town of Bon Accord in Alberta.
Astronomers welcome people to learn about their work, by participating in events such as the Great Basin dark sky train noted above, by acting as experts on star themed cruises and nature hikes, and by hosting events at observatories and learning centers. Sheila visited the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis in west Texas, where she explored two programs, one at twilight and one in dark skies, to learn about planets, stars, and sunsets.
All across the world, people have been and still are looking up to dark skies. The astronomer Galileo lived in Tuscany for a time, so perhaps it’s not surprising that this hilly region with a climate lending itself to clear skies is a fine place for experiencing night skies. You can also visit Galileo’s former residence, and explore the work of scientists at Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory just outside Florence.
Ireland is not always known for its clear night skies but when they occur the island of Ireland is an excellent place to see the stars. You may come upon them by visiting in remote areas of the island, or by exploring the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve on the Iveragh Peninsula. The Kerry Reserve is internationally renown for the clarity of its night skies. Archaeologists have found evidence that stone circles in Kerry helped people follow the movements of the sun, moon, and stars, and that inscriptions in ancient Ogham script are observations of dark skies and stars.
Those sorts of observations are thought to have had a part in the uses of the standing stones at Calanais, on the isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. When skies are clear, the far north of Scotland and the western and northern isles are fine places to explore the stars. The isle of Coll has designated itself to preserve access to dark skies, and the Galloway Forest Park in southwestern Scotland often hosts dark sky events.
The southern hemisphere has many places to explore the night sky as well.Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran in New South Wales is Australia’s only dark sky park, and as you might suppose, the outback offers many places so see night skies clear of city lights. The Atacama region in Chile is known for its clear skies as well as a number of renown observatories to which you can book visits.
In New Zealand, Liz gives tips on what to do and when to visit to experience dark skies and explore the stars, as well as details on Aeoteoroa Stonehenge, where scientists have created a replica of Stonehenge in England — but one that traces the voyages of the navigators of Polynesia. Aeoteoroa Stonehenge is, she points out, a great place to learn of ancient culture and travels as well as of modern day astronomy.
Have you explored dark skies on your travels? Let us know in the comment section below. Stay with us, too, as there will be more stories on stargazing, and on many other sorts of travel across the world, yet to come.
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