10 incredible stargazing destinations

Over the next few years, a number of spectacular astronomical events will take place, starting with a total solar eclipse on March 20.

The bad news is that it will only be visible from Svalbard, in Norway, or the Faroe Islands. But the good news is that additional solar eclipses and lunar eclipses will be taking place around the world over the next two years.

Tamara Hinson has rounded up the top 10 destinations all budding astronomers should know about.

1. The Faroe Islands

This spring (9:41am on March 20, to be exact) a total solar eclipse will take place which will only be visible in the Faroe Islands and Svalbard in Norway.

Not to insult Norway, but the lack of light pollution in the Faroes means that the best views will be from these tiny islands, located between the tip of Scotland and Iceland.

But if you’re hoping for a ringside seat, act quickly: budding astronomers started booking up rooms more than 10 years ago, drawn by the promise of a solar eclipse in a place with minimal light pollution, and where the population is less than 50,000.

2. Chile

Chile’s Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth, receiving no more than a millimetre of rain per year. This, combined with the high altitude and minimal light pollution, makes for a fantastically clear night sky.

Keen astronomers will be blown away by the views of the southern hemisphere’s stars – look out for the Tarantula Nebula and the Fornax Cluster of galaxies.

Head here for great views of the lunar eclipses which will take place on April 4 and September 28.

3. Italy

Stargazers are spoilt for choice in Italy. We recommend heading to the clear skies above Tuscany, which is one of the first places where astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei used his groundbreaking invention, the refracting telescope, to look at the surface of the moon.

Can’t afford your own telescope? Then head to Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory outside Florence. Equally fascinating is Florence’s Institute and Museum of the History of Science, where visitors will find displays of the telescopes and compasses used by Galileo.

Italy is another great spot from which to watch the second lunar eclipse of 2015 on September 28.

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4. Exmoor, UK

The solar eclipse, which will take place on September 16, 2016, will be visible from large parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, so why not enjoy the spectacle from our very own Exmoor National Park?

In 2011, it was designated Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, and the second in the world. The area boasts some of the darkest skies in the country, and some of the most popular stargazing spots include Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake.

March and April are the best times to visit.

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5. Los Angeles, US

Usually associated with stars of the celebrity kind, Los Angeles is actually the ideal place to spot some stars of the galactic kind.

Why? It’s home to the incredibly powerful Griffith Observatory. Depending on the time of year, Jupiter, Venus, double stars, clusters and nebulae can all be seen with incredible clarity from here, and the observatory’s high-powered telescope means that visitors can also study the surface of the moon in great detail.

The observatory holds regular events for amateur star gazers, and thousands will flock there for the lunar eclipses on April 4 and September 28.

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6. Alberta, Canada

On October 11, Uranus will be at opposition – its closest approach to the sun – and Alberta is one of the best places to watch the planet being illuminated by the sun’s rays.

Wood Buffalo National Park was designated the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve in 2013 and Jasper National Park is another Dark Sky Preserve within the state (the latter is 97% light pollution-free).

Stargazers flock to both for breathtaking views of the aurora borealis and constellations of the northern sky.

Wood Buffalo National Park holds an annual Dark Sky Festival, a three-day event which combines astronomical presentations, night sky viewing opportunities and a planetarium experience, and Jasper National Park holds a similar event in October.

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7. Hawaii

Hawaii is located more than 2,300 miles from the US mainland, and it’s established itself as one of the world’s top stargazing destinations.

The Milky Way, the bands of Jupiter and the constellations of Ursa Major and Orion can all be seen incredibly clearly from the islands.

At Maui’s Haleakala National Park, rangers lead regular star-spotting expeditions between May and October, but visitors can also pick up “star maps” from the park’s headquarters all year round.

Similar tours are available on the Big Island’s 13,796-foot Mauna Kea, where stargazers are given portable telescopes by guides.

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8. Tenerife, Canary Islands

In 2015 there will be three conjunctions, which occur when astronomical bodies appear very close to one another in the sky.

The first, which takes place on October 26, will be a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. It will be easy to spot with the naked eye, and the skies above Tenerife are the perfect place to see it.

Tenerife’s night sky is protected by strict laws relating to light pollution and flight paths. Teide National Park is miles away from the light pollution caused by the coastal resorts, and on a clear night, constellations such as The Great Bear and The Plough, and Mars and Neptune are clearly visible within minutes of the sun setting.

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9. Utah, US

The second conjunction takes place on October 28 when Mars moves closer to Jupiter to form a triple conjunction. We recommend heading to Utah to check out this phenomenon.

It’s another place which owes its magnificent star-spotting opportunities to its dry, arid climate, and astronomers have been flocking here for years – the Astronomy Festival which is held in June in Bryce Canyon is one of the longest-running festivals of its kind.

The park employs a team of dark sky rangers to advise visitors, who can use top-of-the-range telescopes and listen as guest speakers reveal the secrets of the galaxy.

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10. New Mexico, US

New Mexico’s pollution-free, cloudless skies are the reasons astronomers flock to this barren part of America, which is home to the series of enormous, 82-foot-diameter radio astronomy antennas known as the Very Large Array, along with Spaceport America.

The best stargazing opportunities are from the mountains – head there for unbeatable views of Venus and some of the largest constellations.

Consider spending the night in one of the cabins rented out by New Mexico Skies, and head to the guest observatory to use their telescopes. Better still, splash out on one of their private observatory domes, which are kitted out with state-of-the-art imaging telescopes which transmit the images to a computer screen.


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