MAPS.ME: the Perfect Places for Stargazing

You may have become obsessed with a new form of travel entertainment or perhaps you have seriously decided to go alien hunting. Either way, it’s official – you have a telescope. There are plenty of reasons to become an astrotourist as well as a number of ways to satisfy your desire to observe the sky.

The end of 2016 brings a few curious astronomical events worth looking at. On November 14th, space enthusiasts can witness the main lunar event of 2016 – a Supermoon. The most “complete” full moon of the year will be shining on sky that night. Early December, the Catalina comet might be visible on a December morning.

If you want to take the “front row seats” to a meteor shower destroying the Earth, or to simply enjoy the beauty of the Milky Way, you need a place with high altitude, a dry climate, and total absence of artificial lighting. Fortunately, there are sites specially equipped for the most zealous astrophiles.

Top 7 Sky Observation Sites

Los Angeles, California, USA 

Famous for the Hollywood stars, Los Angeles does not strike as a place for the «stars of the Earth». Although in fact, the legendary observatory on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in LA’s Griffith Park is an important astronomical center.

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Through the numerous observatory telescopes, the pieces of the moon craters can be seen at a glance. Visitors can also enjoy the dazzling space shows in the Samuel Ocean planetarium which uses the most advances Zeiss projector, or to observe the night sky through the 30-inch telescope.

Los Angeles as seen from the Griffith Observatory

Atacama, Chile

Chile is one of the best places to observe the celestial bodies in the Southern Hemisphere. The harsh Atacama Desert located in the north of the country offers one of the world’s most remarkable spots to watch the stars. Also, this region is famous for its advanced astronomical observatory.

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Being a part of the Paranal Observatory in Chile, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere has placed a Very Large Telescope (VLT) to observe the stars. VLT, a complex of 4 separate 8.2-meter optical telescopes combined in one system, is in fact the largest telescope in the world. When those telescopes work together, they increase the celestial images by 25 times.

Photo by: European Southern Observatory (ESO)
Photo by: European Southern Observatory (ESO)

The Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory, Russia

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Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St. Petersburg is considered to be the main astronomical observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences. During tours in the day and night, visitors can peer into a 26-inch refracting telescope, the Large Pulkovo Radio Telescope, or one of the biggest solar telescopes in Europe.

Photo by: Vladimir Ivanov
Photo by: Vladimir Ivanov

Exmoor National Park, United Kingdom

Exmoor National Park is the first park in Europe with a member status of IDSR programme. The stars which normally cannot be seen in the city are perfectly visible here – even without a telescope. Holdstone Hill provides the best spot to observe the starry sky.

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Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

The slopes of Mauna Kea is a place where a few most famous astronomical observatories in the world are located. At the top of 4205 meters high volcano there are 13 observatories with telescopes from 11 different countries, capturing the entire starry sky.

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Due to the dry climate, the region is one of the most cloud-free on Earth which makes Mauna Kea a great place for astronomical observations. Since the volcano is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, little to none of the big city lights reach here. The top of the volcano offers a fantastic view of the celestials in the Northern Hemisphere – the Milky Way, Jupiter’s stripes, the Big Dipper, and Orion.

Keck Observatory

Stonehenge, United Kingdom

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The true purpose of Stonehenge is still a mystery. However, many experts believe that the enormous blocks were built specifically for astronomical observations. Whether or not this is true, the stars can indeed be studied there now. Ideal conditions are maintained near the megaliths for those wishing to see the sky as it appeared thousands (if not millions) of years ago.

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Mont-Mégantic Internaotinal Dark Sky Reserve, Canada 

Spreading around Mont-Megantic Observatory in Quebec, this park was the first to obtain the status of International Dark Sky Association reserve.

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Over its 5,500 square kilometres territory, there are almost no sources of artificial light. Thus, the park is considered to be one of the best places to watch the stars.

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Finally, for the laziest among us, your own apartment is the most readily available observation site! On a clear night the moon, planets, and stars can be observed even through city lights. With some practice, you can even use your smartphone to take a picture of our nearest neighbor:

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How deep one can peer into the past depends on the telescope capacity. In a few years, The James Webb space telescope will be launched into orbit. Hopefully, it will provide some insights into the earliest page of the historical calendar, when the universe was only 200 million years old.